Salt levels in Australian fast food ‘well above acceptable’

Burgers at Hungry Jack’s in Australia contain more salt than at stores in other countries. AAP/Edwina Scott

Fast foods in Australia contain less salt than their equivalent in the US but more than in France and Britain, a comparison of meals at major chain stores such as McDonald’s and KFC has found.

Elizabeth Dunford, from the George Institute for Global Health in Sydney, and a team of researchers from Canada, France, New Zealand, Britain and the US compared salt levels in 2124 food items from Burger King - or Hungry Jack’s in Australia, Domino’s Pizza, KFC, McDonald’s, Pizza Hut and Subway.

Their findings are published today in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

In Australia, the foods were found to contain on average 1.3g of salt per 100g, lower than Canada (1.4g) and the US (1.5g), but higher than Britain (1.2g) and France (1.1g), and on par with New Zealand.

Hungry Jack’s Double Whopper and Double Cheeseburger contained more salt in Australia than anywhere else - 0.8g and 1.5g respectively.

In other foods, salt levels varied dramatically. McDonald’s chicken nuggets contained 1.6g of salt per 100g in the US, 1.1g in Australia and just 0.6g in Britain.

After New Zealand (1.4g), Australia has the equal second-highest salt levels in burgers, together with Canada and the US (1.3g). Britain has the least (1.1g).

In several studies, high salt consumption has been linked to an increase risk of stroke and heart disease.

“Although Australia came out better than the US and Canada in many instances, previous work we have done on fast food in Australia shows that many products are still well above acceptable levels of salt,” Ms Dunford said.

“A good example is that when examining the product salt levels per serve, one burger from Australia was the highest out of all the countries included in the survey – Hungry Jack’s Ultimate Double Whopper provided 6.2g salt per serve, although of note is that now in 2012 it provides 5.5g salt so they have reduced the sodium in this product.

"The UK has had a national salt reduction campaign running for many years now so it was no surprise that they came out lower overall compared to other countries. Although the Food and Health Dialogue has started working with industry to set salt targets for foods here in Australia, progress has been very slow compared to the UK target-setting process and needs to be sped up. Salt reduction targets would set a level playing field for the industry.”