Background: Several fast food companies have made commitments to reduce the levels of salt in the foods they serve, but technical issues are often cited as a barrier to achieving substantial reductions. Our objective was to examine the reported salt levels for products offered by leading multinational fast food chains. Methods: Data on salt content for products served by six fast food chains operating in Australia, Canada, France, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States were collected by survey in April 2010. Mean salt contents (and their ranges) were calculated and compared within and between countries and companies. Results: We saw substantial variation in the mean salt content for different categories of products. For example, the salads we included in our survey contained 0.5 g of salt per 100 g, whereas the chicken products we included contained 1.6 g. We also saw variability between countries: chicken products from the UK contained 1.1 g of salt per 100 g, whereas chicken products from the US contained 1.8 g. Furthermore, the mean salt content of food categories varied between companies and between the same products in different countries (e.g., McDonald's Chicken McNuggets contain 0.6 g of salt per 100 g in the UK, but 1.6 g of salt per 100 g in the US). Interpretation: The salt content of fast foods varies substantially, not only by type of food, but by company and country in which the food is produced. Although the reasons for this variation are not clear, the marked differences in salt content of very similar products suggest that technical reasons are not a primary explanation. In the right regulatory environment, it is likely that fast food companies could substantially reduce the salt in their products, translating to large gains for population health.
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