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Fast-food kids' meals have less energy, fat, and salt than full-service restaurants - study

Meal deal options, although cheaper, can exceed dietary recommendations when compared to a single kid’s main course.

Image: Shutterstock/Andy Shell

UP TO 68% of children’s meals in restaurants across Ireland and the UK contain more total fat and saturated fat than recommended by health guidelines, according to new study. 

The research, by Cork Institute of Technology and the University of Roehampton, also found that fast-food restaurant meals contained less energy, fat, and salt than did full-service restaurants, and meal deals were less likely to meet dietary guidelines than main meals alone.

The study looked at children’s menus from 20 “popular” chain restaurants, and analysed 39,266 meals.

The research, published in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behaviour, found that the average meal for children:

  • Younger (aged 2-5 years) contained 609 (±117) kcal, compared to guidelines of 364
  • Older (aged 6-12 years) contained 653 (±136) kcal, compared to guidelines of 550

A total of 68% of younger children’s and 55% of older children’s meals contained more total fat than recommended and more than four times the amount of saturated fat.

The research also found that comparing meal deals and the single main course highlighted the extent to which additional courses and drinks contribute to the energy content of a meal.

In particular, by choosing the meal deal option, seen as more convenient and cheaper, parents are perhaps unknowingly ordering meals that exceed dietary recommendations.

Author Dr Tara Coppinger, Department of Sport, Leisure & Childhood Studies at CIT said: “As families are opting to eat out more regularly, our findings indicate a worrying trend of young children eating increasingly unhealthy food.

While the sugar sweetened drinks tax that came into effect in 2018 was a positive step to help improve the quality of food and drink on offer, this study proves that there is still a lot of work to be done in many of the country’s most popular restaurants.

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