The Guardian and numbers, eh?

The same children’s meals at popular fast food chains have been found to contain hugely varying levels of salt in different countries, which campaigners say shows that the companies could reduce levels if they wanted to.

Research by campaign group World Action on Salt and Health (Wash) found that a KFC child’s meal in Costa Rica contained 18 more teaspoons of salt than the same meal in the UK.

18 teaspoons of salt in one kid’s meal, eh?

That is actually fairly serious.

49 thoughts on “The Guardian and numbers, eh?”

  1. The Beano has a better factual reporting team than the Gruan. Do they all have to hold degrees in stupid to get a job I wonder?

  2. Giovanni Botulismo

    Punctuation’s none too great either; they mean childrens’ meals, unless they shipped the same children round the planet to make the meals comparisons.

  3. 18 MORE teaspoons?

    The Germans would certainly add another single-service packet of salt or two to that-

  4. 18 teaspoons of salt in one kid’s meal, eh?

    That is actually fairly serious.

    Yep, it is. And completely not possible.

  5. One gram of salt equals 0.2 of a teaspoon.

    So one teaspoon is 5 grammes of salt.

    According to the article the Costa Rican KFC meal had 5g of salt, which is one teaspoon.

    The equivalent UK meal had 1 g of salt. Which sounds about right.

  6. @Signor Botulism,

    Children’s is the correct punctuation. I know it’s confusing, but it is. Because “children” is already plural, doesn’t need an -s to make it plural, and thus uses the ‘s form of the possessive.

  7. Who cares what the actual unit is? In some place it is higher than others. Doesn’t even matter what the bad thing is – in some places there is more bad thing than in other places. Before long the Graun will be just like the Wail. “Outrage at revelation Costa Rican kids KFC has 20,000,000 FEMTOGRAMS more salt than in Southport”.

  8. “Before long the Graun will be just like the Wail. ”

    They are two cheeks of the same scaremongering, innumerate, irrational, fashion-following arse. Yellow journalism from cover to cover.

    The readers of the one preen themselves on being so much smarter and more sophisticated than the readers of the other, that’s all.

  9. The graun is already just like the wail. Just with the dog whistle set to a different pitch.

    And pointing this out pisses off the lefties no end 🙂

  10. There was an old joke about how you confused a Mail reader. Tell them an asylum seeker killed a paedophile. I think we have now found a similar example for Graun readers, in that having tastier burgers in Costa Rica is simultaneously post-colonial inequality _and_ still the white man’s burden.

  11. Giovanni Botulismo

    Eyup, BiG…

    Nein! 🙂 I believe you’re wrong, but there we are. Always happy to be corrected when I do get it wrong. I’m even gracious in apology.

    “Children’s meal” works, but “children’s meals” needs “childrens’ ” to work in this context – because the object is the meals, not the children.

  12. From the original report: “Comparing Costa Rica’s KFC Popcorn Nuggets and Fries (5.34g salt per serve) with the same meal sold in the UK (0.9g salt per serve): If eaten twice a month, over a year the amount of salt would total 128.16g and 21.6g respectively. This would equate to 21.36tsp of salt and 3.6 tsp. The difference between the two is 106.56g salt per year = 17.76 tsp salt (there are 6g salt in a teaspoon).”

    So the Guardian claimed it was 18 extra teaspoons in one meal – the report said it was 18 teaspoons in 24 meals. Bit of a difference.

  13. Grammar Nazi in Germany

    Eh? “meal” is possessive here not objective. That’s the problem – plurals and possessive don’t mix easily in English. The usual rule gets thrown out of the window with irregular plurals, and even I’m never sure with things that are and aren’t countable (fish). “The brethren’s sacred apron(s).” would be another example.

  14. OK, the numbers are balls, but instead of dog-whistling, isn’t the thrust of the piece saying that manufacturers are able to regulate themselves following medical advice?

    This is a good thing, no? Regardless of whether or not you think eating unnecessary levels of salt is something to be concerned about, better the corps take a stand rather than needing government intervention?

  15. Arnald:

    You’re mistakenly assuming that the “use less salt” thing is even good medical advice for the majority of the people. Much of so-called “public” health advice, especially on diet, has been a disaster.

  16. Ted S

    I did hint at that, I agree, I can’t see how a standard on salt – or booze etc – can apply to all. But not being pissed all the time and not giving yourself sodium poisoning it at least a sensible starting point, no?

    I still maintain that the piece was more about how the same company in different countries can vary the recipe at will, If they see fit. If the levels of salt are unnecessary then they can change it now. Although they’ll sell less cola.

    To be honest, I don’t care, I use too much salt, cook with butter and inject myself in the eyelid with methamph, and it’s never done me any harm.

  17. Mr Botulism, the problem you face is that there is no such word as childrens. Therefore you cannot tack on an apostrophe to indicate possession. Children’s automatically means that the meals were eaten by multiple young humans.

  18. Different people, different tastes. Add in the fact that people in warmer countries need more salt since they sweat a bit more in the heat and you might just find that the nasty big food merchants are actually catering to what the customer wants rather than deliberately setting out to poison their consumer base.

    And the whole ‘salt is bad for you’ nonsense is causing more medical problems than any oversalted fast food.

  19. Oh, and I will add that the nasty ‘Big Fast Food’ companies are mostly franchises and the local franchisee probably knows more about their local customer’s taste than even head office, let alone some journo many thousands of miles away.

  20. Ah, hubris! A quick trawl through Eats Shoots and Leaves and this site certainly says I’m wrong (and so I apologise from the depths of my embarrassment) but appears to indicate that BiG might (takes deep breath) be wrong too.

    The correct form appears to be “childrens meals”. Oh well 🙂 .

  21. Arnald said:

    OK, the numbers are balls, but instead of dog-whistling, isn’t the thrust of the piece saying that manufacturers are able to regulate themselves following medical advice?

    All it is is evidence that there are some countries where WASH/CASH haven’t got much traction.

    And it isn’t really food manufacturers regulating themselves. The government has been all over the low salt movement like a rash for years. And lowering calories too. It has created a cult that manufacturers are keen to join: Public Health Responsibility Deal Presumably because it is good PR and acts as a cover for reducing portion sizes while maintaining prices.

  22. @KevinB, but the franchisee doesn’t get to choose how much salt is included in the component ingredients of the meal (the burgers, bread, sauces etc.), most of which they are obliged to buy centrally.

  23. bloke (not) in spain

    With particular reference to TedS’s comment.
    I’ve just spent a month in Malaga city, with a whole lot to do & not a lot of time to do it. The bike’s been a godsend. That’s been at temperatures in the mid 40’s. (A TV news report had a Seville plaza at 57 deg, mid July. Southern Spanish cities are mighty warm in summer) I’ve been drinking 5 liters of water a day. On top of whatever beers, cokes & whatever else I’ve been able to snatch, in passing.
    Somehow, I don’t see the advice of some pressure group being of much value, to me. My problem’s trying to replace salt.
    And maybe that’s why KFC salts kids’ nuggets in CR. Electrolyte deficiency can be very nasty. Even in the UK. After all, what you don’t metabolise you just piss. Clever thing, the body. If it wasn’t, we’d have had to evolve with little blood testing kits & tiny sets of scales to carry round.

  24. @KevinB, you’re correct about the need of those in hot countries to have more salt. In my native Iran (a hot country), a very popular drink that is very refreshing is Doogh, a drink made from yogurt, salt, and mint or cucumber.

  25. The correct form appears to be “childrens meals”.

    That seems to me to be quite wrong. Who the hell has the appetite to eat not just one bunch of children, but several?

  26. “@KevinB, but the franchisee doesn’t get to choose how much salt is included in the component ingredients of the meal (the burgers, bread, sauces etc.), most of which they are obliged to buy centrally.”

    And yet the campaigners are complaining about more salt in the chicken nuggets in some places than in others? Hmmm?

  27. I think it would be better to say child meals, using the common English method of turning a noun into an adjective, eg kitchen door.

  28. Diogenes

    “child meals”

    After Dearieme’s comment, I’m afraid that all that conjures up is a poor little thing swirling around in a very big stew pot…

  29. You mean we’re expected to feed our children now? I just let mine forage for scraps, berries, roots and nuts.

  30. bloke (not) in spain

    “It would be helpful though if there were more potassium and magnesium salts added instead.”

    We don’t know what salt they’re using,do we? Why the presumption it hasn’t?

    Oh, they’re evil neoliberal, capitalist running dogs…Of course!

  31. >18 teaspoons of salt in one kid’s meal, eh?

    A mistake. The Guardian journalist actually meant to write ‘180 teaspoons’.

  32. In all honesty, the so-called childrens meals should be called “normal portions” and the adult meals should be called “large-sized portions”. No wonder obesity is on the increase – anything more than 100 grams of protein consumed at one sitting seems to get converted straight into carbohydrates. An Indian guy I work with goes to Nandos and eats a whole chicken…and then wonders why he is putting on weight.

  33. “An Indian guy I work with goes to Nandos and eats a whole chicken…and then wonders why he is putting on weight.”

    It’s probably because he’s getting older. Natural equilibrium body weight increases with age.

  34. Bloke in North Dorset

    This whole thing isn’t about public health, its about control freakery.

    As pointed out here, there enough low fat, low salt, zero sugar and zero taste food and drink in our supermarkets to satisfy everyone who wants it and its all at the same price. There’s even whole isles of fresh food and vegetables and virtually give away prices.

    And there’s enough information in the public domain for people to make their own choices. You can’t open a woman’s magazine, BBC web page or listen to a news broadcast without being bombarded with information.

    I’ll bet if you had a magic wand and offered it to these public health zealots and said they could wave it and hypertension, obesity or whatever it is they are bitching about would disappear they would refuse to wave it.

  35. Bloke in Costa Rica

    It’s bollocks. KFC here tastes exactly the same as it does in the UK. That’s kind of the point of fast food chains: you don’t have to guess what the food is going to taste like so the surprise factor is low.

  36. The Groan has now corrected this to read, “Research by campaign group World Action on Salt and Health (Wash) found that a KFC child’s meal in Costa Rica, if eaten twice a month for a year, contained 18 more teaspoons of salt than a child eating the same meal in the UK.”

    So they are now formally comparing the salt in a Costa Rican meal with the salt in a British child who eats KFC. They really do need to shoot the sub on that story.

  37. “NiV, I suspect he is well above equilibrium”

    If he was, then he’d be losing weight.

    It’s like salt, or water, or oxygen, or any of the body’s other biochemical balances. There are control systems that push it higher if it’s too low and push it lower if it’s too high.

    When you’re young, the ideal weight for most people is usually set fairly low, and when you’re 20 you can maintain a slim figure effortlessly. As you get older, the biological “thermostat” setting moves higher. Probably for very good evolutionary reasons – people classed as “overweight” tend to live longer. It’s quite possible that the body sets weight lower than is healthy when you’re young because everything’s new and in perfect working order and it doesn’t matter, but as things start to wear out the body starts to cushion (ho. ho.) the systems a bit more.

    Diets are really about sex. Because young people with more breeding time still to go tend to be thinner, thinness is sexually attractive. Hence people who are getting a bit past it go to great efforts to look younger. Even if that’s not entirely healthy, if it gets you a better partner it’s worth it.

    And there’s big money in sex, and even bigger money in trying to do the impossible, which is why there is huge money in trying to help people lose weight despite their every biochemical system screaming that they need to eat more. It’s a market need that can never be satisfied, because fundamentally – diets don’t work. It’s like trying to hold your breath to reduce your blood oxygen level (anti-oxidants are good for you, hence oxygen must be bad), and finding that after a while you forget, or your willpower slips, and you breath again. So they can sell you more cures all over again. It’s an amazing money machine.

    And telling you it’s good for your health as well catches all those people who didn’t buy it for the sex. Bigger market, more money.

    Anyway, statistically the top two things that affect weight are genetics and age. How much you eat is scarcely correlated. (Nor should you expect it to be if you think about it. The rate of change of a thing is not the thing itself.) So assuming they’ve not just been recently infected by an Ad36 virus, the most likely reason for a person gaining weight is age.

  38. “Probably for very good evolutionary reasons – people classed as “overweight” tend to live longer”

    Do you have a ref for that? Not disputing but I am maintaining my weight as I get older – now 55 – so maybe I should try to gain weight. However, my indian colleague is in his mid-30s and growing ever fatter.

  39. You tend to see lower death rates in higher body weight groups in clinical trials. “Everyone knows” it happens in oncology – recently had one in stroke prevention with quite a marked improvement in survival of the fattest.

    The trouble being, you are looking at quite a selected population and that can do rather odd things to results, in particular for non-powered subgroups (Some people can spend ages looking for esoteric explanations for small differences that are actually attributable to some confounding effect). Your thin patients in your cancer trial might, far from having a healthy lifestyle, simply have had the disease longer than the (still) fat ones, and thus merely be stochastically closer to their impending death.

    So I wouldn’t believe any general statement anyone makes about anything, including being fat and early death (in either direction). Being fat increases your risk of some modes of death for sure, might decrease others. From personal experience being fat is also less good from a lifestyle perspective than not fat. Take your pick.

  40. “Do you have a ref for that?”

    A fairly random selection…

    (Not sure what’s going on with the formatting – I didn’t do it…)

    Unadjusted annual rates of cardiac death (CD) rose versus stress MPS abnormalities in all weight groups (p less than 0.001). Obese or overweight patients with or without known CAD who had normal MPS were at low CD risk (less than 1%/year), similar to normal weight patients. In CAD, obese and overweight patients with abnormal MPS had lower rates of CD compared with normal weight patients (p less than 0.01). In patients with low ejection fraction (EF) by gated MPS, those with normal weight had highest CD rate (p = 0.001). Multivariable models revealed that BMI was not a predictor of CD in suspected CAD patients (hazard ratio [HR] 0.99; 95% confidence interval [CI] 0.95 to 1.02) but was an independent inverse predictor of CD in known CAD patients (HR 0.95; 95% CI 0.92 to 0.98), especially in women, adenosine stress, low EF, or abnormal perfusion.
    CONCLUSIONS: Normal MPS was associated with low risk of CD in patients of all weight categories. In patients with known CAD undergoing MPS, obese and overweight patients were at lower risk of CD over three years than normal weight patients.

    Men who had a weight loss of 4.5 kg or more or who had large fluctuations in weight (or both) over a six-year period were, on average, in poorer health than their peers whose weight was more stable. After the exclusion of subjects who died during the first five years of follow-up and after adjustment for confounding factors, a weight loss of more than 4.5 kg was associated with the risk of death from all causes, with the exception of death from cancer. The subjects whose weight fluctuated the most had a significantly higher risk of death from cardiovascular causes (relative risk, 1.41; 95 percent confidence interval, 1.03 to 1.93), death from noncardiovascular and noncancerous causes (relative risk, 1.53; 95 percent confidence interval, 1.12 to 2.10), and death from all causes (relative risk, 1.25; 95 percent confidence interval, 1.05 to 1.48). However, the associations of weight loss and variation in weight with death from cardiovascular causes and from noncardiovascular and noncancerous causes were not found among healthy men who had never smoked.

    Does social class predict diet quality?
    A large body of epidemiologic data show that diet quality follows a socioeconomic gradient. Whereas higher-quality diets are associated with greater affluence, energy-dense diets that are nutrient-poor are preferentially consumed by persons of lower socioeconomic status (SES) and of more limited economic means. As this review demonstrates, whole grains, lean meats, fish, low-fat dairy products, and fresh vegetables and fruit are more likely to be consumed by groups of higher SES. In contrast, the consumption of refined grains and added fats has been associated with lower SES. Although micronutrient intake and, hence, diet quality are affected by SES, little evidence indicates that SES affects either total energy intakes or the macronutrient composition of the diet. The observed associations between SES variables and diet-quality measures can be explained by a variety of potentially causal mechanisms. The disparity in energy costs ($/MJ) between energy-dense and nutrient-dense foods is one such mechanism; easy physical access to low-cost energy-dense foods is another. If higher SES is a causal determinant of diet quality, then the reported associations between diet quality and better health, found in so many epidemiologic studies, may have been confounded by unobserved indexes of social class. Conversely, if limited economic resources are causally linked to low-quality diets, some current strategies for health promotion, based on recommending high-cost foods to low-income people, may prove to be wholly ineffective. Exploring the possible causal relations between SES and diet quality is the purpose of this review.

    During follow up 5,064 people gained more than 2.5 kg. Compared with the highest social class, individuals in the lowest social class had around a 30% greater risk of gaining more than 2.5 kg (OR 1.29; 95% CI 1.11–1.51; p for trend = 0.002). This association remained statistically significant following adjustment for sex, age, baseline BMI, smoking, and follow up time (OR 1.25; CI 1.07–1.46; p for trend 30) in patients with chronic kidney disease (CKD) undergoing maintenance hemodialysis (MHD) is paradoxically in the opposite direction; ie, a high BMI is associated with improved survival.
    MEASUREMENTS: The dates and causes of all deaths were followed up for 4 years.

    RESULTS: The relative hazard ratios (HRs) for all-cause mortality were lower in overweight subjects (BMI=25.0) than in underweight (BMI<18.5) or normal-weight (BMI 18.5–24.9) subjects. Similarly, the HRs for mortality due to CVD in overweight subjects were 78% less (HR=0.22, 95% confidence interval (CI)=0.06–0.77) than those in underweight subjects, and those in normal weight subjects were 78% less (HR=0.22, 95% CI=0.08–0.60) than those in underweight subjects. Mortality due to CVD was 4.6 times (HR 4.64, 95% CI=1.68–12.80) as high in underweight subjects as in normal-weight subjects, and mortality due to cancers was 88% lower (HR=0.12, 95% CI=0.02–0.78) in the overweight group than in the underweight group. There were no differences in mortality due to pneumonia.

    CONCLUSION: Overweight status was associated with longevity and underweight with short life, due to lower and higher mortality, respectively, from CVD and cancer.
    Dietary fat intake and early mortality patterns–data from The Malmö Diet and Cancer Study.
    Leosdottir M1, Nilsson PM, Nilsson JA, Månsson H, Berglund G.
    Author information

    Most current dietary guidelines encourage limiting relative fat intake to <30% of total daily energy, with saturated and trans fatty acids contributing no more than 10%. We examined whether total fat intake, saturated fat, monounsaturated, or polyunsaturated fat intake are independent risk factors for prospective all-cause, cardiovascular and cancer mortality.

    Population-based, prospective cohort study.

    The Malmö Diet and Cancer Study was set in the city of Malmö, southern Sweden. A total of 28,098 middle-aged individuals participated in the study 1991-1996.

    Subjects were categorized by quartiles of relative fat intake, with the first quartile used as a reference point in estimating multivariate relative risks (RR; 95% CI, Cox's regression model). Adjustments were made for confounding by age and various lifestyle factors.

    Women in the fourth quartile of total fat intake had a significantly higher RR of cancer mortality (RR 1.46; CI 1.04-2.04). A significant downwards trend was observed for cardiovascular mortality amongst men from the first to the fourth quartile (P=0.028). No deteriorating effects of high saturated fat intake were observed for either sex for any cause of death. Beneficial effects of a relatively high intake of unsaturated fats were not uniform.

    With the exception of cancer mortality for women, individuals receiving more than 30% of their total daily energy from fat and more than 10% from saturated fat, did not have increased mortality. Current dietary guidelines concerning fat intake are thus generally not supported by our observational results.
    Results: At baseline, dietary GI and GL were associated inversely with HDL cholesterol, and GI was associated directly with triacylglycerols. Dietary GI and GL were related inversely to fasting glucose and directly to 2-h postload glucose, but only the association between GI and 2-h postload glucose was robust to statistical adjustments for employment grade, physical activity, smoking status, and intakes of alcohol, fiber, and carbohydrates. High-dietary GI was not associated with increased risk of incident diabetes. Hazard ratios (HRs) across sex-specific tertiles of dietary GI were 1.00, 0.95 (95% CI: 0.73, 1.24), and 0.94 (95% CI: 0.72, 1.22) (adjusted for sex, age, and energy misreporting; P for trend = 0.64). Corresponding HRs across tertiles of dietary GL were 1.00, 0.92 (95% CI: 0.71, 1.19), and 0.70 (95% CI: 0.54, 0.92) (P for trend = 0.01). The protective effect on diabetes risk remained significant after adjustment for employment grade, smoking, and alcohol intake but not after further adjustment for carbohydrate and fiber intakes.

    Conclusion: The proposed protective effect of low-dietary GI and GL diets on diabetes risk could not be confirmed in this study.
    This review questions the appropriateness of behavioral and dietary treatments of obesity in light of overwhelming evidence that they are ineffective in producing lasting weight loss. The stigmatization of obesity, the overstatement of health risks, and the pervasive influence of the lucrative diet industry have maintained public demand for dietary treatment. However, decades of research on the biology of weight regulation make clear the unlikelihood of success with dietary treatment, information which the health professions have been slow to integrate. Recommendations are made for improving lifestyle, health risk factors, body image, and the self-esteem of the obese without requiring weight loss.

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