Do McDonald's burgers and fries belong in hospitals?

April 10, 2012

Talk about your mixed messages. Go to grab a bite in some hospitals and you will see cafeterias offering salad bars and other healthful fare right next to McDonald's outlets offering burgers and fries.

Nearly two dozen hospitals that host McDonald's restaurants just got a letter from an advocacy group asking them to evict their fast-food tenants and to "stop fostering a food environment that promotes harm, not health." The group, Corporate Accountability International, is leading a larger campaign to get McDonald's to stop marketing to kids. That effort has been endorsed by nearly 2,000 health professionals, some of which work at the very hospitals still housing the fast food giant, says campaign director Sara Deon.

"We hear from physicians saying kids come in for their diabetic check-ups and they hear the parents saying 'If you are well-behaved, we'll take you for a treat at the McDonald's down the hall,' " Deon says. And McDonald's doesn't just get business in these deals: It gets a healthy image boost, Deon says.

But breaking these ties is easier said than done, NPR reports. In many cases, long-standing contracts -- created before hospitals adopted what some call a "culture of wellness" -- keep unwelcome food vendors in place. Doctors at prestigious Cleveland Clinic tried to oust McDonald's back in 2005; it is still there - even though one of the doctors who led the effort is now the hospital's CEO.

McDonald's says it still has 27 outlets in hospitals (nine fewer than reported in 2005) and that it offers plenty of balanced choices. "Today, we offer more variety than ever in our menu and we trust that our customers will make the appropriate choices for them, their families and lifestyles," a spokesperson tells NPR.

In all fairness, McDonald's isn't the only seller of fatty, salty or sugary fare in hospitals: Pizza Hut, Subway, Chick-fil-A, Starbucks and other chains have in-hospital outlets. And a review by the vegan advocacy group Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine found several hospitals that gave space to multiple fast food outlets and also had staff cooks serving such dishes as fried chicken and country-fried steaks in their own cafeterias.

Deon admits her group is picking on McDonald's because it is big: "They profit most and they lead the way."

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