The salt content in such popular fast foods as KFC chicken and Hungry Jack's burgers is unacceptably high in Australia.
A survey of salt levels in a range of foods sold by six major fast-food chains showed most products contained excessive quantities of sodium, the Australian Division of World Action on Salt and Health (AWASH) said.
Three quarters of the sandwiches and burgers surveyed using nutritional data from the websites of McDonald's, Hungry Jack's, Subway, Oporto, Red Rooster and KFC contained more than half the maximum daily allowance of salt in a single serve. One chicken and chips meal contained seven grams of salt. Adults are recommended to limit their salt intake to one-to-two grams a day, with a maximum of six grams. However, on average, Australians consume nine grams a day.
There is a strong link between salt, high blood pressure and coronary vascular disease, including heart failure, kidney failure and stroke. Children who eat a high sodium diet are at risk of developing obesity, asthma and high blood pressure.
Professor Bruce Neal said despite pressure from public health groups such as AWASH and the Heart Foundation, there is an unacceptable level of salt in popular fast foods.
The processed food and catering industries were largely responsible for the overload of salt in Australian diets as about 75 per cent of salt intake is from these sources, Professor Neal said.
The companies had responded well to government pressure to rid food of problem fats but salt levels remain high.
The Government must take urgent action on the issue, he insisted.
"That doesn't mean legislation but it means the Government getting up there and saying this is what has to happen," he said.
"What we're suggesting should happen is that the companies should put together plans, that [they take] 25 per cent of salt out of their products across the board over five years."
The chief executive of the Australian Food and Grocery Council, Kate Carnell, said the food industry was willing to look at ways to reduce salt content in some products, and some companies had already taken steps to do so.
The author of Health And The City
, Caitlin Reid, told Sydney Morning Herald that many consumers thought they were being health-conscious by ordering what they perceived to be healthy options but they did not realise the amount of salt their choices contained.
Meals such as salad, pasta and soup can contain high levels of salt, she said.