August 5, 2008 / 12:14 AM / 11 years ago

Fast-food kids' meals heavy on calories: U.S. group

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Kids’ meals at popular fast-food restaurants deliver more than a quick lunch or dinner — 90 percent of them have far more than a meal’s worth of calories and many are loaded with fat and salt too, according to a report released on Monday.

A five-year-old takes a bite of a hamburger in a file photo. REUTERS/Eriko Sugita

The Center for Science in the Public Interest — the group that took the fun out of movie popcorn and Chinese takeout by revealing the fat and calorie content of such treats — said it is difficult to find anything remotely healthful for a child to eat at several restaurant chains.

“Nearly every single possible combination of the children’s meals at KFC, Taco Bell, Sonic, Jack in the Box and Chick-fil-A is too high in calories,” the group said in a statement.

CSPI examined the menus at 13 popular restaurants that promote children’s meals.

“Ninety-three percent of 1,474 possible choices at the 13 chains exceed 430 calories — an amount that is one-third of what the Institute of Medicine recommends that children aged four through eight should consume in a day,” the group said.

Children often get more than two meals’ worth of energy in a single visit to Brinker International’s Chili’s restaurants.

“Chili’s has 700 possible kids’ meal combinations, but 658, or 94 percent, of those are too high in calories, including one comprised of country-fried chicken crispers, cinnamon apples and chocolate milk (1,020 calories) and another comprised of cheese pizza, home-style fries and lemonade (1,000 calories),” the group said.

More than 90 percent of meals offered at hamburger chains would fill virtually all of a child’s calorie needs for the day, CSPI said.

It rated privately owned Subway the best. “Only a third of its Fresh Fit for Kids meals, which include a mini-sub, juice box and one of several healthful side items (apple slices, raisins, or yogurt) exceed the 430-calorie threshold,” CSPI said.

Some of the restaurants challenged the CSPI report.

“KFC is proud to offer a variety of Kids’ Meals for those looking for lower calorie, lower fat options. The KFC information in the report is inaccurate, as KFC offers a number of Kids’ Meal options well below 430 calories,” the chicken restaurant chain said in a statement.

“On June 30, 2008 BKC (Burger King Corp) launched a new Burger King Kids Meal that complies with BKC’s nutrition criteria,” Burger King said in a separate statement. It includes macaroni and cheese, fried apple and low-fat milk, the company said.

McDonald’s chief marketing officer Neil Golden said one choice includes a 375-calorie Chicken McNuggets Happy Meal, including Apple Dippers, Low Fat Caramel Dip and low-fat milk.

“People may not get a heart attack until their 50s or 60s, but arteries begin to clog in childhood,” said CSPI nutrition policy director Margo Wootan. “Most of these kids’ meals appear to be designed to put America’s children on the fast track to obesity, disability, heart attack or diabetes.”

The group noted that many restaurant chains refuse to provide nutritional information for their meals including DineEquity Inc’s Applebee’s and IHOP restaurants and Darden Restaurants Inc’s Red Lobster and Olive Garden restaurants.

Reporting by Maggie Fox and Eric Walsh

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