Obesity fears grow as 2 in 3 children's meals busting fat guidelines
Over two-thirds of meals for children analysed in restaurants across Ireland and the UK exceeded nutritional guidelines for fats.
A study conducted by a leading Irish college found that in one category alone, meals for older children, saturated fat content was a staggering 400pc higher than the recommended guidelines.
The Cork Institute of Technology (CIT) team also found that fast food restaurant meals contained less fat, salt and energy than meals in full-service restaurants.
The CIT team studied 39,000 meal combinations across 20 popular restaurant chains in both Ireland and the UK.
The survey has taken around two years to complete.
Dr Tara Coppinger, of CIT's Department of Sport, Leisure and Childhood Studies, led the study which was conducted in co-operation with a team from the University of Roehampton in the UK.
Their research, published in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behaviour, raises alarming issues over children's diet and the fact that so many families are now eating out rather than dining at home.
It also comes against a background of increasing levels of obesity among children in both Ireland and the UK.
Experts have warned that many European countries face major future health problems because of the spiralling levels of childhood obesity now being recorded.
The CIT study findings underline the scale of such fears.
"As families are opting to eat out more regularly, our findings indicate a worrying trend of young children eating increasingly unhealthy food," Dr Coppinger said.
"While the sugar sweetened drinks tax that came into effect in 2018 was a positive step to help improve the quality of food and drink on offer, this study proves that there is still a lot of work to be done in many of the country's most popular restaurants."
Some 68pc of meals examined were found to have both total fats and saturated fats above recommended health guidelines for children.
The average meal for younger children (aged two to five) contained 609 kcal, and for older children (six to 12) 653 kcal compared with guidelines of 364 and 550 kcal, for younger and older children, respectively.
When analysed, it was found that 68pc of younger children's meals were above both fat guidelines.
The research also showed that 55pc of older children's meals contained more total fat than recommended.
Worse still, they had more than four times the guidelines for saturated fat.
The study also revealed that so-called 'meal deals' were less likely to meet dietary guidelines than main meals alone.
The researchers found that comparing meal deals and the single main course highlighted the extent to which additional courses and drinks contribute to the energy content of a meal.
By unwittingly choosing the meal deal option as more convenient and better value for money, parents were unknowingly ordering meals that exceed dietary recommendations for their children.