Did you know that at least one in 10 children in South Africa are already diagnosed with high blood pressure? Whilst we expect to see high blood pressure in older adults, the phenomenon in children is now much more common and very worrying, especially as these young children will have a much greater risk of developing severe health problems like heart disease, stroke and kidney failure as young adults.
We are seeing this shocking trend in South Africa largely as a result of the unhealthy foods we feed our children. An unhealthy lifestyle, which includes a diet high in salt, is the main cause of high blood pressure. Children are particularly vulnerable to our unhealthy environment as they often have very little influence on food purchases, and being young and impressionable, they are often targets for the advertising of unhealthy foods, high in added sugar, salt and unhealthy fats.
How much salt can children have? A child between the ages of 4 and 6 years shouldn’t have more than 3 g of salt a day, and for children over 7 years as well as adults, no more than 5 g (1 teaspoon) of salt a day. Yet South Africans typically consume more than double that amount! More than half of the salt in our diets comes from hidden salt in processed foods, and many of these foods are firm favourites of children. Crisps, fried chips, kotas or pies are often bought at school tuck shops and vendors, and recent research has shown that one out of 3 adolescents eat fast foods two to three times a week. Fast foods of course typically contain high levels of salt. With this in mind, we took a look at some children’s meals at popular fast food outlets to see just how much salt these meals contain. The results are quite alarming!
Amount of salt
Wimpy Frank and Egg Breakfast for kids
Bacon, eggs, toast and a frankfurter sausage
Wimpy Toasted Cheese and Chips toasted sandwich
Steers Beef Burger Brat Pack
McDonalds Happy Cheeseburger Meal
KFC Mini Burger Meal
KFC 1 piece children’s meal
1 piece of chicken with small chips & cooldrink
Debonairs Pizza Real Deal Cheezy Pepperoni
Pronounced ‘quarter’, this is a quarter loaf of white bread, with chips, fried eggs, cheese & polony or sausage
What we can take from this is that many of these meals, which are marketed specifically for children, actually provide more salt in that single meal alone than what a child should have for the entire day! And in some cases, it’s close to double!
Does this mean that children should never be allowed to eat take-aways? Well having take-aways from time to time shouldn’t be a problem, but it shouldn’t become an everyday norm for our children. While these foods are readily available and tempting to children, we need to remember the importance of providing a healthy start for children and helping them to form healthy habits that will stay with them into adulthood. We don’t want our children to develop the taste for salt in the first place!
So the next time you buy take-out for the family, keep these numbers in mind. Rather eat out less often and prepare more meals at home. This way you have more control over what goes in to your family meals.
We are also asking the restaurant industry this Salt Awareness Week to act more responsibly and start reducing the amount of salt added to meals, and particularly to children’s meals. If the public starts to make a stand, the industry will need to react!