Consumer group Choice has found what it refers to as "unacceptably high" levels of salt in a range of childrens' food products, including breakfast cereals and lunchbox items.
Using data provided by The George Institute for Global Health, Choice reviewed the nutritional content of more than 240 products aimed at, or likely to be consumed by, children. Of those, 20 percent were classified as high in salt, nearly 60 percent had medium levels and 20 percent were classified as low in salt.
It also found that a number of childrens' products have close to or more than the amount of salt in products intended for consumption by adults.
For example, a lunchbox-size pack of Tiny Teddies has almost as much sodium (87mg) as a lunchbox-pack of Smith's Original Chips (91mg). Overall, 72 childrens' products had more sodium per 100g than the Smith's chips.
The survey also found:
- Of the 36 breakfast cereals, 60 percent had medium levels of salt with Kellogg’s Crispix Honey Cereal and Coles Rice Puffs having high levels.
- Two-thirds of 64 savoury snacks were high in sodium with pre-packaged cheese dips and crackers the worst offenders.
- Around 80 percent of 70 sweet snacks were found to have medium sodium levels.
Professor Bruce Neal from The George Institute for Global Health said the results indicate that the food industry needs to be more closely monitored.
"Recommended intake levels for children are much lower than for adults so this data is very concerning. This calls for much tougher action to control the food industry, so it is not profiting at the expense of our children's health," he said.
Choice's food policy advisor, Angela McDougall, said another concern is how these products are being marketed, with many advertised as being healthy options for children.
"Woolworths has launched a kids’ range and even though many of the products are in the health food aisle, some have more salt than the adult alternative.
"These organic products are marketed as a good choice for hungry little mouths yet many do not deserve this healthy halo."
Just last month the food industry committed to addressing sodium levels in savoury crackers, as part of the Food and Health Dialogue, which is based on the 2007 National Children’s Nutrition and Physical Activity Survey. The Survey found that the dietary patterns of many Australian children are less than optimal with high consumption of salt and saturated fat, and low consumption of fruit and vegetables.