U.S. fast food much saltier than food abroad

Researchers find large differences in salt content

April 20, 2012

Fast food sold in the U.S. and Canada is often much higher in salt content than the same foods sold in several other developed countries, according to a new study  published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

For the study, researchers:

  • Focused on products sold by Burger King, Domino's Pizza, Kentucky Fried Chicken, McDonald's, Pizza Hut and Subway;
  • Selected six different developed nations (the U.S., Canada, Australia, France, New Zealand and the U.K.); and
  • Analyzed the salt content of more than 2,100 products from seven different categories, such as burgers, chicken products and pizza.

The researchers found wide variations in sodium levels in similar foods and that items sold in the U.S. and Canada had much higher levels than the same items sold in the U.K. and France. For example, Chicken McNuggets at a McDonald's in Canada contained 2.5 times more sodium than those sold in the U.K.

Researcher Norman Campbell of the University of Calgary said it is unclear why the salt content varied between countries. The researchers suggest differences in government regulations could be a contributing factor. The U.K has set voluntary salt-reduction "targets" for the packaged food industry, but those are not yet applicable for the fast food industry.

"These high levels indicate failure of the current government approach that leaves salt reduction solely in the hands of industry," the researchers said. Campbell called for a "structured, voluntary" approach where governments work with the food industry to set lower salt targets, which he said would be most effective to lower salt content (Norton, Reuters, 4/16; HealthDay, 4/16).

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