Fast-food giants are adding massive amounts of salt to meals aimed at children, it was claimed yesterday.
Some menu choices have been found to contain four times the maximum level of salt recommended for youngsters.
Pizza Hut and Kentucky Fried Chicken emerged as the worst culprits after a survey by Consensus Action on Salt and Health.
The pressure group, run by independent health specialists, investigated the contents of 69 children's dishes and family "meal deals".
It found a family of four sharing Pizza Hut's "Pizza Plus for 4" deal could each eat an alarming 12.3 grams of salt.
That is more than twice the recommended maximum of 6g for an adult and almost two and a half times the 5g limit for a child aged seven to ten.
A six-year-old could consume more than four times their recommended 3g.
The meal deal includes a starter, such as chicken wings, then two pizzas, garlic bread, potato wedges and a shared dessert.
The pressure group said the salt content in a Pizza Hut children's meal could be as high as 4.3g - 50 per cent more than the daily limit for a younger child.
A KFC Deluxe Boneless Box shared between four could contain 5.2g of salt per person, the group said.
That is nearly a whole day's salt limit for an adult and more than the maximum recommended for children.
Research shows high salt consumption over a number of years can lead to raised blood pressure, strokes, heart attacks and premature death.
The Food Standards Agency and the Department of Health have told manufacturers, supermarkets and restaurants to reduce salt levels.
However, average consumption among adults is running at 9g a day. Children are also exceeding the recommended limits.
Graham MacGregor, a professor of cardiovascular medicine and chairman of Consensus Action on Salt and Health, said the group's survey showed that salt levels in some popular meals were staggeringly high.
The professor, who is based at St George's Hospital Medical School in South London, warned: "Salt acts as a long-term toxin that puts up blood pressure in both children and adults and thereby causes strokes and heart attacks.
"We know reducing salt intakes to below the recommended 6g a day for adults and less for children reduces the risk of having a stroke by a quarter and heart attacks by one fifth."
Jo Butten, a nutritionist for the pressure group, said salt consumption could be cut by avoiding dishes with extra cheese or bacon.
But a spokesman for the Salt Manufacturers' Association said: "A nationwide policy of salt reduction, as advocated by the UK Government, is likely only to benefit a small minority of people and could put many others at risk.
"Salt is essential for life and for good health. It helps maintain the fluid in your blood cells and transmit electrical impulses between the brain, nerves and muscles."
Pizza Hut insisted the meals examined in the study would typically be eaten by adults alone rather than by families.
A spokesman added: "Every sensible parent knows Pizza Hut is an enjoyable treat.
"We have significantly reduced the salt levels in our products over the past few years."
A KFC spokesman said: "We have had a salt reduction programme in place for several years now and have reduced salt by up to 30 per cent across our product range.
"We were the first - and remain the only - fast-food chain to have removed salt from our fries, leaving customers to choose whether they want to add salt or not."
McDonald's and Burger King have also reduced salt levels.Source; http://www.happykidsclub.info