US fast food chains under attack over kids meals

Posted by Isobel Drake on 6th August 2008


The Center for Science in the Public Interest, a US-based advocacy group, has claimed that nearly every single possible combination of the childrens meals offered by America’s leading* fast-food chains are too high in calories.

According to the CSPI, 93 per cent of 1,474 possible choices at the 13 leading fast food restaurant chains exceed 430 calories – an amount that is one-third of what the Institute of Medicine recommends that children aged four through eight should consume in a day.

The survey claimed Subway was leading the way when it came to kids meals. Only a third of its Fresh Fit for Kids meals, which include a mini-sub, juice box, and one of several healthful side items (apple slices, raisins, or yogurt), exceed the 430-calorie threshold.

“Parents want to feed their children healthy meals but America’s chain restaurants are setting parents up to fail,” claimed CSPI nutrition policy director Margo G. Wootan. “McDonald’s, Burger King, KFC, and other chains are conditioning kids to expect burgers, fried chicken, pizza, French fries, macaroni and cheese, and soda in various combination at almost every lunch and dinner.”

CSPI has advocated laws or regulations that require chain restaurants to list calories on menus and menu boards. They’ve already begun appearing in New York City. While San Francisco, King County (Seattle), Multnomah County (Portland), and Santa Clara County in California, also have passed menu labeling policies. Similar policies have been introduced in over 20 other states and localities over the last two years. California’s legislature may be on the verge of passing a statewide menu labeling bill.

The National Restaurant Association, the leading US industry body for restaurants, suggested the findings were misleading and believes fast food restaurants are making a concerted effort to improve the nutritional value of their food. “There is a strong trend in the industry of restaurants providing more detailed nutritional information and choice in menu options for consumers,” they advised. “This is a positive trend and one that consumers have recognized: A 2007 consumer survey showed that four-out-of-five customers said there were more healthy options available and more food choices available than there were two years earlier. The restaurant industry is committed to responding to the preferences of its customers and helping them make the eating decisions they would like.”

“The nation’s 945,000 restaurants provide numerous options to accommodate all types of tastes and eating plans, and this includes options for children and their parents to choose from,” the NRA added. “Indeed, CSPI fails to acknowledge the essential role of nutrition education, physical activity and parental responsibility in childhood nutrition – good eating habits and healthy living must be established in the home.”

Burger King, KFC and McDonald’s all disputed the results of the study by the CSPI, pointing to a number of kids meals they add on their menus that had fewer than 430 calories.

*CSPI only scrutinized the chains that have dedicated children’s menus (19 out of the top 25 chains) and that provide nutrition information on their web sites or elsewhere (13 chains).