Three leading high-street restaurants are “sugar villains” who serve children’s drinks and desserts laced with “obscene” amounts of the sweet stuff, a campaign group will claim in a forthcoming report.
The Soil Association, which promotes organic farming and healthy eating, will “name and shame” Pizza Hut, Frankie & Benny’s, and Nando’s as the worst offenders, mainly because they offer unlimited refills of soft drinks.
The report, Out to Lunch, found that two fizzy drinks and a sample portion from Pizza Hut’s “Ice Cream Factory” more than seven times a 10-year-old child’s recommended maximum daily sugar intake.
About 37 per cent of 11- to 15-year-olds and 30 per cent or so of under-10s in England are overweight or obese. In France, where about 15 per cent of children are overweight, the National Assembly voted almost unanimously in April to ban free soft-drinks refills due to concern about rising obesity.
Rob Percival, a Soil Association policy officer, said: “Parents want to take their children for a treat, but they have no idea how much sugar some high-street restaurants are peddling at their children – it’s obscene.” He added that the idea a treat was “necessarily something covered in ice cream and deep-fried” could be habit-forming. “These restaurants ... teach children a lesson for life,” Mr Percival said.
He urged the Government, which recently decided not to introduce a “sugar tax”, to send a message that the “unlimited sale of soft drinks is irresponsible and steps will be taken to prohibit the practice if the chains don’t take action themselves”.
Food manufacturers, schools and restaurants all need to improve the quality and healthiness of their food, he argued, saying: “The obesity crisis is so severe we really need a consistent approach across society.”
Out to Lunch, due to be published at the end of this month, names Pizza Hut as the worst “sugar villain”. The Soil Association said a child having a fizzy drink, a free refill, and a single portion of ice cream with lemon crunch and milk chocolate beans – from the unlimited Ice Cream Factory – would consume the equivalent of about 44 sugar cubes (179g). The recommended maximum daily amount for a 10-year-old is 24g, or six cubes.
Pizza Hut said it provided a balanced and varied menu: “All of our self-service drink machines provide low- and no-sugar options, and the majority of carbonated drinks bought are low- or no-sugar. Free, unlimited salad, which includes over 30 different varieties of fruit and vegetables, is available across all of our Huts.”
Frankie and Benny’s, a chain of Italian-American-style restaurants, was named as the second-worst sugar villain because it offers unlimited soft drinks and a range of sweet desserts, which it promotes at the table.
The researchers used “secret diners” to help gather information. After a visit to Frankie & Benny’s, one said: “The puddings were all sugar. The drinks were all sugar. The puddings were promoted on the table, like an ice-cream candy shop. I was on my own with three children. What do you think happened next?”
Frankie & Benny’s said its extensive menu enabled people to decide whether to eat healthily or treat themselves. “We offer complimentary vegetables with every children’s meal and drinks including water, milk and fruit juice,” a spokeswoman said. “An apple is also offered to every child on leaving our restaurants.”
Portuguese-style chicken restaurant Nando’s was third because it also offers unlimited soft drinks. It has an online calorie calculator, but the Soil Association said it was “clearly not fit for use” as the calculator did not include refillable soft drinks.
Nando’s said its children’s menu had “lots of healthy options, from fresh vegetables like cherry tomatoes, cucumber and sweetcorn to chicken-breast fillet strips and sweet potato wedges”, and offered two drinks – organic milk or squash provided in a self-serve bottle – so parents could control how much was consumed. Unlimited water is also available.
Other “sugar villains” were named: Pizza Express offers a set three-course child’s meal “loaded with sugar”; Café Rouge has discounted refills of sugary drinks; and Zizzi, an Italian food chain, offers children ice cream with “sugar cones” for pudding.
Mr Percival said they hoped to persuade restaurants to change voluntarily by “naming and shaming” them. But: “It’s also about transparency ... and celebrating those [restaurants] that are doing the right thing.” Harvester, a farmhouse-style chain, Jamie’s Italian and the Wetherspoon pub chain were among those praised for trying to reduce children’s sugar intake.
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