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What’s in your kids’ meal?
First study published comparing the nutritional content of multinational fast food kids’ menus

Toronto, October 24, 2013 – A new study that compares the nutritional content of kids’ menus in fast food restaurants has been published in the journal Public Health Nutrition. “Nutritional quality of fast food items on Kids’ Menus: comparisons across countries and companies” by Hobin et al is an innovative study that compares the calories, sodium, total fat and saturated fat of food items offered on kids’ menus in four leading fast food chains.

“Nearly one-third of children are overweight or obese, and kids’ meals are the top selling fast food items sold to children under the age of 13,” said Dr. Erin Hobin, scientist at Public Health Ontario and lead author of the study. “Eating out has become increasingly common in high-income countries, and now accounts for almost one-third of children’s daily caloric intake, twice the amount consumed away from home three decades ago.”  

Given the association between eating out and unhealthy dietary patterns, the authors examined the nutritional content of food items offered in kids’ menus or as part of kids’ meals. They also studied the potential effects of new legislation in the United States requiring mandatory calorie labelling on restaurant menus and recommendations for voluntary targets for sodium reduction in the United Kingdom. The authors compared the menus of four of the largest multinational fast food chains in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the UK, and the US. These food chains each had a specific section of their menus labelled for kids. The authors examined the calories, total and saturated fats, and sodium levels for 138 kids’ menu food items using publicly available nutrition information. Study results show the average kids’ menu item to contain 203 kcal, and the highest calorie item to have 475 kcal. The average sodium content per food item was 390.5mg and ranged from 0mg to 1010mg.

“For boys aged four to eight, as an example, Canada’s Food Guide recommends approximately 1,500 to 2,000 calories per day depending on their activity level and no more than 1,200mg of sodium. Eating some food items from the kids’ menu could significantly add to their overall energy consumption and exceed the recommended adequate intake of sodium, potentially leading to weight gain and other health problems,” said Hobin.

Notably, the study shows kids’ menu food items to contain significantly fewer calories in fast food restaurants in the US. On average, a single food item on kids’ menus in fast food restaurants in the US contains 63 fewer calories compared to those in other countries. In the UK, the average sodium content of a kids’ menu item contains 150mg less compared to menu items in other countries. Food items on kids’ menus in fast food restaurants in Canada contain, on average, the highest sodium content and the second highest amount of calories when compared to the other countries studied.

“Children are important targets for nutrition interventions. These study findings may indicate that restaurants are responding to government initiatives to improve nutrition environments, and that these initiatives can substantially lead to an improvement in the nutritional quality of kids’ menu food products,” said Hobin.

“Nutritional quality of fast food items on Kids’ Menus: comparisons across countries and companies,” by Hobin E, Hammond D, White C, Li L, Chui M, O’Brien M. is available online at:

Public Health Ontario is a Crown corporation dedicated to protecting and promoting the health of all Ontarians and reducing inequities in health. Public Health Ontario links public health practitioners, front-line health workers and researchers to the best scientific intelligence and knowledge from around the world.

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For more information, please contact:

Nicole Helsberg​
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Page last updated: 2013-10-25 4:50 PM
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