Kellogg, the global breakfast cereal company, has been selling some of its most famous brands in Britain with higher salt and sugar levels than in its native US.
Health campaigners have discovered that leading "health" cereals such as All-Bran and Special K have levels up to three times higher than in America.
On British shelves, the Kellogg's high-fibre All-Bran contains 133 per cent more salt than in the US while the spin-off All-Bran Yoghurt has 117 per cent more sugar. Britons breakfasting on Special K - promoted as the healthy way to start the day - are munching 31 per cent more sugar.
The figures, from the company's own nutrition information, come amid rising concern about the obesity epidemic that has left two thirds of British adults overweight. Britons consume about 6.5g of salt a day compared with the Food Standards Agency's target of 6g.
A spokeswoman for Kellogg, which has annual sales of $1bn (£0.5bn), confirmed the disparities between its UK and domestic market. She said: "The reason is mainly because of taste differences across the world. Our products aren't high in sugar and salt and we have been reducing the salt and sugar in our products in line with government policy."
However the consumer group Which? said such differences were unacceptable in a foodstuff with a controversial health record. In a survey this year, Which? found 75 per cent of 270 cereals were high in sugar and a fifth were high in salt. "Why do breakfast cereals have to be high in sugar and salt when most people think they are healthy products," asked Sue Davies, chief policy adviser. "The same health issues apply in the UK and the US. Everybody is conscious we are eating too much sugar, fat and salt and you would have hoped that Kellogg would have the same policies across the Atlantic."
Health campaigners at the Centre for Science in the Public Interest in Washington believe that multinational food companies are being selective in how they improve nutrition. In a report, Lost in Translation, they noted that many food giants have made "substantive" efforts to cut salt and sugar content.
The report added: "When companies make such changes, however, they typically fail to do so on a transatlantic basis. Rather, most companies typically respond to national or regional pressures, whether they be mandatory regulations or exhortations by government officials."
For instance, the report said, since the introduction of comprehensive nutrition labelling in the US in 1994, Mars Bars have full nutrition information in the US, "but in Europe the company claims there is not space on the label for more than a few nutrients".
Although Pepsico had introduced new smaller crisps aimed at British children, limits on calories in its Frito-Lay snacks in the US did not apply to Walkers' products in Britain, the report added.
Bruce Silverglade, director of legal affairs at the institute, has written to the chief executive of Kellogg, Jim Jenness, asking for a justification of the transatlantic disparities.
"Kellogg may claim that differences in nutrient content are due to regional taste preferences," he wrote. "However, we note that Kellogg's Corn Flakes, Frosted Flakes, and Frosted Flakes Reduced Sugar sold in the US and UK all contain similar levels of sodium and sugar. If Kellogg can successfully market those cereals in the US and the UK, with equivalent nutritional values, it would seem that the company could do the same with many of its other cereals (at the lower of the two levels)."
Fat: 3.2g US/3.5g UK
Per 100 gram
All-Bran yoghurty bites
Per 100 gram
Per 100 gramReuse content