Prognosis Grim for McDonald's Restaurants in Hospitals

John Commins, April 16, 2012

Hamburger giant McDonald's USA says that only 26 of its more than 14,000 fast-food restaurants in the United States are located on hospital campuses.

But in the view of one consumer advocacy group, that's 26 restaurants too many.

"We are calling on the administrators of the nation's leading hospitals and health institutions to bag the burger joints and create a healthier eating environment for children," says Sriram Madhusoodanan, national campaign organizer for Boston-based Corporate Accountability International.

CAI this month sent a letter to 22 hospitals with a McDonald's on their campuses, including Cleveland Clinic and Children's Memorial Hospital of Chicago, urging them to sever ties with the Golden Arches.

"The main reason we are launching this effort is because in hospitals, clinics, and doctors' offices kids are being treated for diet-related conditions like diabetes on one floor and being offered the world's most-recognized junk food brand on the next," Madhusoodanan says. "The practice earns McDonald's a very undeserved association with healthfulness among parents and children. It needs to stop."

Madhusoodanan says McDonald's marketers have taken a page from "the tobacco industry before it and worked to co-opt the voice of the health community."

"These hospitals where McDonald's is siting are essentially used as part of McDonald's comprehensive marketing strategy, and it's a strategy that is at its core inconsistent with the goals of the health institution. It's important that when people come to these hospitals that they have food environments that reflect the advice that their doctors and health providers are giving them and doesn't totally contradict it."

Not surprisingly, McDonald's has a different perspective.

"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," Danya Proud, spokesperson McDonald's USA, said in an email to HealthLeaders Media.  "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."

Proud said some meal combinations provide less than one-third of the USDA's daily recommendation for fat, sodium, and calories. The hamburger giant also provides easy access to nutritional and ingredient information in each restaurant and on the Internet. For example, the signature Big Mac, large fries and large coke carry about 1,350 calories.

John Commins

John Commins is a senior editor at HealthLeaders Media.

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