Advocacy group asks children's hospitals to remove McDonald's

April 11, 2012

McDonald's has weathered a nearly two-year storm of critics asking the chain to stop marketing its food to children, but it now appears there is another dark cloud on the horizon.

On Tuesday, Corporate Accountability International, a corporate watchdog organization based out of Boston, called on the administrators of the nation's leading health institutions to remove McDonald's franchises from their premises.

Twenty-two hospitals currently have contracts with McDonald's, including the Cleveland Clinic and Children's Memorial Hospital of Chicago.

"Kids are being treated for diet-related conditions like diabetes on one floor in the hospital and given the wrong message by being offered the world's most recognized junk food brand on another floor in the hospital," said Dr. Francine Kaufman, former president of the American Diabetes Association and professor emeritus of pediatrics and communications at Children's Hospital Los Angeles, one of the hospitals with a McDonald's. "The practice earns McDonald's an undeserved association with healthfulness among parents and children alike...and it should be curtailed."

To address this concern and call for action, the organization sent a letter to 22 hospital administrators last week. The letter reads, in part:

"Dear Hospital Administrator,

On behalf of thousands of health professionals who work daily to improve public health and who have joined the Value [the] Meal campaign, we are calling on you to help curb the epidemic of diet-related disease and to stop fostering a food environment that promotes harm, not health. We urge you to end your contract with McDonald's and to take action to remove the McDonald's restaurant from your hospital.

The rates of children suffering from diet-related disease are staggering ... According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in the decades to come, one in three children will develop type 2 diabetes as a result of diets high in McDonald's-style junk food. ...

Focusing on the food environment is a primary care imperative with the potential to prevent chronic disease for generations to come. ...

... Scientific evidence also confirms what common sense has told us for decades – that environments laden with fast food restaurants and junk food marketing have profoundly negative impacts on children's lifelong eating habits and well-being.

Health professionals are devoted to caring for sick children and adults and to preventing illness. But these efforts cannot compete with the profit-driven mechanisms by which McDonald's and the fast food industry operate their business, and the toll that McDonald's practices have had on children's health ...

... in your role as a local health leader, you have allowed McDonald's—a corporation that has disregarded public health in the name of profits—to operate within an environment devoted to helping our children get well. A 2006 study published in Pediatrics concluded that by allowing a McDonald's store to operate inside your facility, you are not just affecting hospital guests' consumption on the day of their visit, but you are unintentionally boosting your guests' perception of the "healthfulness" of McDonald's food.

... It's really no surprise McDonald's sites stores in hospitals. After all, for decades, McDonald's has attempted to coopt the health community, to deflect blame for the epidemic of disease that it has helped drive, and to pose itself as part of the solution. ...

Sara Deon
Value [the] Meal Campaign Director"

The 22 institutions that received the letter include: Abbott Northwestern Hospital, Minneapolis; MCG Health Children's Medical Center, Augusta, Ga.; Northside Hospital, Atlanta; Naval Medical Center, San Diego; Jackson Memorial Hospital, Miami; Mercy Medical Center, Des Moines, Iowa; Cleveland Clinic, Cleveland; Broward General Medical Center, Fort Lauderdale, Fla.; Memorial Regional Hospital, Hollywood, Fla.; Children's Memorial Hospital, Chicago; Riley Hospital for Children, Indianapolis; Truman Medical Center, Kansas City, Mo.; Grady Memorial Hospital, Atlanta; Rady Children's Hospital, San Diego; Ben Taub Hospital, Houston; Methodist Rehabilitation Center, Jackson, Miss.; Texas Children's Hospital, Houston; Tampa General Hospital, Tampa, Fla.; Driscoll Children's Hospital, Corpus Christi, Texas; and Kosair Children's Hospital, Louisville, Ky.

The CAI has challenged McDonald's before, launching ads and events protesting what it called the chain's "predatory marketing" tactics in 2011, penning editorials calling the company exploitative and releasing a statement about retiring CEO Jim Skinner's tenure, calling it "big profits, bad for public health."

In a statement to Ad Age, McDonald's spokesperson Danya Proud said: "McDonald's promotes the idea that it's not about where you eat; rather, it's about what and how much a person chooses to consume during every eating occasion. We are proud of our menu and the actions we have taken to evolve the variety of choices we offer our customers, which have led our industry."

Read more about health and nutrition.

Topics: Business Strategy and Profitability , Food & Beverage , Health & Nutrition , Marketing / Branding / Promotion , Operations Management , Policy / Legislation , Restaurant Design / Layout , Social Responsibility

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