1. Children's meals are popular with young restaurant patrons. At the same time, there has been increasing local and international concerns about prevalence of overweight and obese school children. Obese children have higher chance of remaining obese when they enter adulthood. Furthermore, obese adults are more likely to suffer from diseases like diabetes, high blood pressure and heart diseases at earlier age than average adults. The figures from Department of Health indicates that about 1/5 of primary school children in Hong Kong are either overweight or obese.
2. This study aimed to gain knowledge of the nutrient content of the meals that are marketed to children in restaurants in Hong Kong.
3. Children's dietary habits are important as children are considered a vulnerable group in society often with little influence on or involvement in what they eat. Evidence suggests that dietary habits in childhood and adolescence also influence eating patterns later in life. So it is vital that children do not develop a taste for salty , sweet or oily food in the first place. An unhealthy diet, including those that are high in salt, sugar or fat, can predispose children to a wide range of chronic diseases including high blood pressure, obesity, heart diseases, diabetes.
4 . This study covers children's meals from 15 local restaurants. Ninety laboratory samples, which can form more than 200 combinations of children's meals, were analysed at Food Research Laboratory of the Centre for Food Safety ( CFS ) and were tested for energy, total fat, saturated fat, trans fat, sugars and sodium. The weight of edible portion and price of the meals were also noted.
5 . The resulting nutrient values of children's meals can then compare against the relevant DRIs of the Chinese Nutrition Society or WHO recommendations for 3 to 11 years old boys and girls. The results showed that the nutrient content varies greatly among children's meals from different restaurants and also among meals from the same restaurant. Some of the children's meals contain large amount of sodium, sugars, total fat or saturated fat, which exceed the DRIs/recommendations for 3 - 11 years old children proportion al to a meal (1/3 of the DRIs/recommendations). Some nutrient contents of these meals even exceeded the DRIs/recommendations for the whole day for these age groups. On the other hand, some meals are quite small that it does not provide enough energy to keep a 3 year old girl filled as a main meal.
6 . The children's meals with the lowest and the highest energy, total fat, saturated fat, sugars and sodium levels are summarised in the table below:
|Children's Meals||Level per meal|
|Lowest energy level||KFC - Hot wing, cobette (corn), Watson's distilled water||180 kcal|
|Highest energy level||Ruby Tuesday - Mini burger fries , Qoo juice drink , chocolate sundae||1300 kcal|
|Lowest total fat level||KFC - Hot wing, cobette (corn), drinks||8.2 g|
|Highest total fat level||Ruby Tuesday - Mini burger fries , drink s, chocolate sundae||68 g|
|Lowest saturated fat level||KFC - Hot wing, cobette (corn), drinks||1.5 g|
|Highest saturated fat level||Pizza Express - Cream and ham pasta, drinks, bambinoccino (with a piece of biscuit), chocolate fudge cake||24 g|
|Lowest sugar s level||KFC - Mushroom rice, original recipe chicken drumstick, Watson's distilled water||0.34 g|
|Highest sugar s level||Pizza Hut - Spaghetti Bolognese set, hot chocolate||80 g|
|Lowest sodium level||KFC - Hot wing, cobette (corn), Pepsi Cola/Watson's distilled water||220 mg|
|Highest sodium level||Outback Steakhouse - Kid's Ribs, tomato juice drink||2500 mg|
Advice to the Public
- The public should take note of the nutrient content of children's meals and choose the appropriate set for children.
- Take note of the portion size of children's meals and s hare the meal with others if the portion is too large in relation to the age and activity level of the children .
- Maintain a balanced diet and choose children's meals with consideration of age, activity level of children and also the overall nutrient content of the meals.
- Be aware of the 3:2:1 volume ratio for grains, vegetables and meat respectively for more healthy main meals for children .
- Choose "3 low" foods with lower sodium, sugar and fat contents and avoid foods that are high in sodium, sugar and fat content .
- Request "less salt", "less sauce" or "less sugar" versions when ordering meals.
Advice to the Trade
- Be aware of the nutrition content of the food supplied as it has public health implications.
- Through selection of ingredients and preparation methods and control of portion size, the trade can take reference from relevant CFS trade guidelines for reducing sodium, sugars and fats levels in food.
- Provide "less salt", "less sauce" or "less sugar" versions upon customers' requests.
- Offer less salt and less sugar options to children's meals customers through the menu and during ordering.
- Provide nutrition information for non-prepackaged food items on menus, price lists and other printed materials so that customers can make informed choice .
7 . The related article is published in the CHOICE MAGAZINE (Issue 461, released on 16 March 2015 ) (In Chinese only).