The study, published in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behaviourby the University of Roehampton, looked at children menus from 20 popular chain restaurants* and analysed over 39,000 meal combinations.
Meals for younger children (aged 2–5 years) contained on average 609 kcal, and for older children (6–12 years) 653 kcal compared with guidelines of 364 and 550 kcal, for younger and older children respectively.
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. In many cases fast food restaurant meals contained less energy, fat, and salt than did full-service restaurants, and meal deals were more likely to exceed dietary guidelines than main meals alone.
The meals were compared with the UK nutritional guidelines for children and highlight clear issues for families who regularly eat out at restaurants and the impact this may have on child health.
The study highlights the extent to which additional courses and drinks in meal deals substantially contribute to the energy content of a meal. In particular, by choosing the meal deal option, often seen as more convenient and cheaper, parents are perhaps unknowingly ordering meals that exceed dietary recommendations.
Author Dr Sue Reeves, Department of Life Sciences, University of Roehampton, said: “Our findings highlight a worrying trend of young children eating increasingly unhealthy food as families opt to eat out on a more regular basis. While the sugar levy in 2016 was a positive step to help improve the quality of drinks on offer, it is evident that there is still a lot of work to be done in many of the country’s most popular restaurants.”
*Restaurants included in the study were: All Bar One, Apache Pizza, Beefeater, Brewers Fayre, Burger King, Crown Carveries, Ember Inns and Ember Pub and Dining, Gourmet Burger Kitchen, Harvester, Kentucky Fried Chicken, McDonalds, Nando’s, Pizza Express, Pizza Hut, Sizzling Pub Co, Subway, Supermacs, Toby Carvery, Wagamama, Zizzi.