This is Salt Awareness Week, and the survey, conducted in collaboration with Wash members in 13 countries, found 39%, or 133 of the 343 children’s meals available from McDonald’s, KFC, Burger King and Subway, had more than 1.8g salt per portion.
A further 71% of dishes had more than 1g of salt per serving - a third of the maximum recommended daily limit of salt for a child aged 4-6 years.
The saltiest dish, available in Oman, was KFC’s Popcorn Chicken meal with fries - with 5.95g of salt per meal - as much salt as 13 bags of ready-salted crisps, and more than the daily recommended limit of salt for an adult.
No country is on track to achieve a 30% relative reduction in salt intake by 2025, as recommended by the World Health Organisation, and global companies may be hampering salt reduction efforts by using different recipes in different countries.
Wash found a huge variation in salt levels of the same meal depending on the country it is sold in.
For example, a McDonald’s Cheeseburger Happy Meal sold in Spain, with 3.6g of salt per portion, has three times as much salt as the same meal sold in South Africa (1.08g).
"This clearly demonstrates the success of South Africa’s mandated salt content targets,” the foundation said.
Graham MacGregor, professor of cardiovascular medicine at Queen Mary University of London and chairperson of Wash, said: “It’s a scandal that the food industry is continuing to produce high-salt meals which they then market to children.
“Global brands like McDonalds, Burger King and KFC must do much more to take salt off their children’s menus. The dietary habits formed in childhood track through to adulthood and we must all act now to prevent the next generation from suffering with unnecessary and easily preventable strokes and heart disease.”
The Heart and Stroke Foundation SA has called for improved nutrition labelling for all products marketed to children.
“This follows a similar call by UK group Action on Salt for warning labels on all high-salt children’s menu items,” they said.