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Burger King begins limiting sodium in "Kids Meals"

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Burger King Corp, the world’s No. 2 hamburger chain, will limit sodium in its “Kids Meals” in what it called the first step by a fast-food by a restaurant chain to address this particular health concern.

A person walks in a Burger King restaurant in Taipei October 22, 2008. REUTERS/Pichi Chuang

The move from the Miami-based company comes as local and state lawmakers slap more rules on eateries, ranging from banning artery-choking trans fat to requiring calorie counts on restaurant menus.

McDonald’s was not immediately available for comment.

Burger King said on Wednesday it will limit sodium to 600 milligrams or less in all of its Kids Meals advertised to children younger than 12.

“We are proud to be the first quick-service restaurant to publicly commit to limiting sodium in Kids Meals,” Burger King Chairman and Chief Executive Officer John Chidsey said in a statement.

Burger King, which was among the last major fast-food purveyors to eliminate trans fat from its food, has been criticized for not putting enough focus on health and nutrition.

“They have some of the fattiest, saltiest foods out there. It’s refreshing that Burger King is thinking along the lines of improving nutrition,” said Michael Jacobson, executive director for the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

Jacobson’s group in August dinged fast-food chains for being loaded with fat and salt.

“I am not sure BK is the first to lower sodium in kids’ meals (they should do it for all their foods) but I applaud their move and hope others follow,” said Bob Goldin, executive vice president of restaurant consulting firm Technomic, in an email.

Most people in the United States eat more sodium than they need, which can put them at risk for high blood pressure, according to The National Institutes of Health. The NIH recommends that most adults consume less than 2,400 milligrams per day.

For context, a teaspoon of salt has about 2,300 milligrams of sodium. There are usually high levels of sodium in processed and restaurant food. But sodium also occurs naturally in foods like milk -- one cup (237 milliliters) of low-fat milk has just over 100 milligrams of sodium.

CURRENT MEALS MEETING NEW CRITERIA

Burger King’s currently advertised Kids Meal is its first to meet the new criteria. It includes kid-sized portions of vitamin-fortified Kraft Macaroni & Cheese, Burger King’s Fresh Apple Fries with caramel dipping sauce and Hershey’s 1 percent low-fat milk.

The meal has 340 calories and 505 milligrams of sodium. Other Kids Meal options that meet the company’s new criteria are in development and will be rolled out by summer 2009.

According to nutritional information on Burger King’s website, a meal of a hamburger, fries and diet soda from the company’s kids’ menu has 520 calories and 950 milligrams of sodium.

According to nutrition guidelines published on MayoClinic.com, sodium limits for children range from 1,000 milligrams for 2- to 3-year-olds to 1,500 milligrams for 14- to 18-year-olds.

Burger King also said it will feature information about adult meal combinations that provide 650 calories or less on tray liners at participating restaurants.

That effort will begin in New York City, which has been a leader in legislating healthier restaurant food, and eventually introduced nationwide.

“Any time a big corporation like Burger King or McDonald’s or other fast-food companies make a move toward offering healthier foods for children or adults, it’s a good thing,” said nutritionist Samantha Heller, who also hosts a radio show on New York University Langone Medical Center’s Doctor Radio.

“I’d like to see them go further in their steps to make the food healthier,” she said.

Shares of Burger King closed down almost 4 percent at $19.08 on the New York Stock Exchange.

Reporting by Lisa Baertlein, editing by Maureen Bavdek, Bernard Orr

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