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Children’s meals in the out-of-home sector frequently contain four times the salt content of their supermarket equivalents, according to research published today by Action on Salt.

The campaign group found more than a third of children’s main meals sold by restaurants exceeded the maximum salt target set by the government to be achieved by the end of 2024. Meanwhile, half of children’s meals sold in the out-of-home sector contained at least half of a child’s daily limit.

The research accused the sector of exploiting a lack of transparency under the government’s rules on labelling to get away without providing parents with clear nutritional information.

While restaurants are required by law to display the amount of calories in meals, additional information on nutrition is voluntary.

Of 37 eateries included in the research, only two, Hungry Horse and JD Wetherspoon, labelled salt on their menus at point of purchase

Eight businesses, including the likes of Bill’s, TGI Fridays and Byron Burger, did not provide any additional information other than calories.

The new data showed the children’s meal with the highest salt content was Bella Italia’s Larger Vegan Margherita Pizza, which with 4.4g of salt contained double the amount of salt as an average supermarket pizza.

It found pasta meatballs sold at Frankie & Benny’s contained 1.6g of salt, compared with 0.4g for an equivalent product in Sainsbury’s.

Meanwhile a mac & cheese kids’ meal from Ocado contained 0.48g of salt per meal, compared with a whopping 1.9g from Pizza Hut’s comparable meal.

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The research comes a week after supermarket bosses called on the government to focus its public health measures on tackling the relatively unregulated out-of-home sector, claiming that it was managing to avoid the same scrutiny as supermarkets despite its food being more laden with sugar, salt and fat.

The BRC called for mandatory regulations on food labelling to apply to all food businesses.

Action on Salt is calling for OOH restaurants to be required by law to provide additional nutritional information at the point of purchase, as well as all companies, including supermarkets and the OOH sector to be required to be set mandatory salt targets.

Professor Graham MacGregor, chairman of Action on Salt, said: “Our research clearly demonstrates that many companies are deliberately flouting the targets for salt reduction in their foods and appear to be indifferent to our children’s health.

“It is time the government took action and enforced the salt targets, as some companies have clearly demonstrated that it can easily be done.”