Ask the Q is calling on restaurant chains to disclose and make readily available the amount of added* sugar in all their children’s menu items including drinks, starters, main meals, sides and desserts. It is insufficient to display only total sugar content on children’s menus because guidelines on total sugars are only readily available for adults. For children aged 4-10 the National Health Service and the World Health Organization have only issued guidelines on added sugar limits.

Currently the default on major restaurant chain menus is food containing unacceptably high levels of sugar. Ask the Q is also calling on restaurant chains to make a commitment to reduce the amount of added sugar they use.

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The problem

Parents need to be able to make informed choices about their children’s sugar intake on health grounds. High levels of added sugar consumption can lead to tooth decay and obesity, with the latter linked with heart disease and type 2 diabetes. The cost to the National Health Service in England and Wales of diabetes (largely type 2) alone is estimated at 10% of the total NHS budget for England and Wales.

Analysis

In February 2016 The Sunday Times and Sky News featured a poll conducted by Ask the Q of 28 major restaurant chains across the UK on the added sugar content of their children's menus. The poll’s findings indicate that parents are largely unable to make informed choices about their children’s sugar intake when they eat out. Only two restaurants – Burger King and Jamie's Kitchen – were able to say exactly how much added sugar their children’s meals contained. Almost one-third couldn't provide any nutritional information at all. 

Not a single restaurant displayed nutritional information on its menus and less than one-quarter of restaurants confirmed that they have this information available in restaurants ‘upon request’. Not a single restaurant indicated a child's RI, broken down by age group, of added sugars. 

Only the Casual Dining Group (Café Rouge and Bella Italia) report that they are actively reducing sugar content across their children's menus (Jamie’s Kitchen have already achieved this for their children’s main meals). 

Children’s main meals

1: Hungry Horse came out top for the children's meals that contained the most total sugars: 27g per serving of chicken curry and rice (142% of a 4-6 year old’s & 113% of a 7-10 year old’s Reference Intake** (RI) of added sugar); 22g per serving of BBQ Chicken and rice; 21g in each chicken wrapper. These meals all contain more than 100% of a 4-6 years old’s RI of added sugar, and between 88% and 113% of a 7-10 year old's RI.***

2: Wetherspoon’s build your own chicken breast wrap contains 17.5g of total sugars (just under the total RI for added sugar for a 4-6 year old and 73% of a 7-10 year old’s RI);

3: Brewer's Fayre’s mini hot dog contains 14.8g of total sugars (78% of a 4-6 year old’s RI for added sugar and 62% of a 7-10 year old’s RI).

Children’s desserts

1: The Harvester offers a ‘build-your-own sundae’ containing 70.2g of total sugars (more than three and a half times a 4-6 year old’s RI and nearly 3 times a 7-10 year old’s RI).

2: Beefeater has a ‘Mini chocolate challenge’ containing 53.5g of total sugars (nearly three times a 4-6 year old’s RI and more than double a 7-10 year old’s RI).

3: Brewers Fayre have a chocolate brownie containing 46.2g of sugar (nearly three times a 4-6 year old’s RI of added sugar and almost double a 7-10 year old’s RI).

Consumer action

  • Email/tweet (#AsktheQ) or ask in person your preferred restaurant chain and:
    • Ask them to make readily available information on the added sugar content of all children’s food and drink items as well as Reference Intakes (RI) by age group
    • Ask them what steps they are taking to reduce the amount of added sugar in all their children’s menu items

 Notes

*Added sugar is also referred to as ‘free’ sugar, and includes any sugar added to food and drink, honey, syrups and unsweetened fruit juice.
**Also referred to as Guideline Daily Amounts and Recommended Daily Allowance.
*** NHS guidelines for added sugar are: children aged 4-6 should have a maximum of 19g a day and children aged 7-10, 24g a day (there is no guidance for 1-3 year olds). While the meals indicate total sugars rather than added sugars, it is likely that there is a large amount of added sugar in these meals. Sugar in the desserts will consistent almost entirely of added sugar.

www.asktheq.org