Children's meals at theme parks 'shockingly' unhealthy

Children's meals at wildlife and theme parks, leisure centres and museums contain "shocking" levels of fat, salt and sugar, according to a report by the Local Government Association published today.

Not one of the 397 meals tested at 220 venues complied with the School Food Trust (SFT) recommendations for healthier food, designed to stop the trend towards child obesity.

Council health and trading standards officers found meals for seven- to-10-year-olds containing 300 per cent more fat than the accepted limit – 85.8g compared to the recommended maximum of 20.6g. One meal had 600 per cent more saturated fat than is advised: 45.6g rather than 6.5g. Other extreme examples had 600 per cent of recommended protein and 350 per cent more salt.

The Local Government Association (LGA) called on parks to provide more nutritious meals, and free water alongside soft drinks. It also wants a cut in fried food, salt shakers and sachets. "School food has significantly changed over the past few years and it is time the hospitality industry introduced similar changes," said an LGA spokesman.

The dietician Sue Baic, who undertook a similar study for the consumer group Which? two years ago, said: "Some of them offer literally no fruit or vegetables and no water. The parents and children are a captive audience, and that's why the parks are doing this. At the same time, some venues, such as Eden Project and Natural History Museum, offer healthy food and kids love them."

Merlin Entertainments, owner of Alton Towers, Legoland, Thorpe Park and Chessington, said it was "astonished", claiming it had improved quality. "Improving the nation's diet is a huge and highly political issue, and not one which an attraction company can look to solve," said a spokesman.

Colin Dawson, head of the association of British commercial leisure parks, said: "It is unfair to claim that children will become unhealthy just because for one day they ate a burger at an amusement park."

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