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Time to Eliminate Sugary Brands from Healthcare

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   December 16, 2015

When hospitals and healthcare organizations affiliate with fast food, their public health reputation is undermined. Here are two eye-opening examples.

Blood sugar-spiking treats are unavoidable during the holiday season, but the healthcare community and general public agree that unhealthy brands shouldn't have a place in hospitals and health systems. So why does it keep happening?

Leslie Nelson

Hospitals have made great strides toward eliminating unhealthy foods from their facilities in 2015. Last spring, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine called out several hospitals and health systems with fast food contracts and many have taken action.

However, due to poor judgment and a lack of foresight, some hospitals are still aligning themselves with high-calorie brands.

Krispy Kreme Challenge Children's Specialty Clinic
No, really.

UNC Children's Hospital in Raleigh, NC, says it is rethinking the decision to name its pediatric outpatient clinic the "Krispy Kreme Challenge Children's Specialty Clinic," which is funny, because "rethinking" implies they gave it some thought in the first place.

The circumstances leading up to this name choice is somewhat convoluted. The Krispy Kreme Challenge is an annual five-mile race that North Carolina State University students created about ten years ago. At the halfway point—which is marked by a Krispy Kreme store—runners are challenged to eat a dozen doughnuts before completing the race. As you can imagine, the second leg of the run gets pretty gross.

While the race started as some lighthearted college shenanigans, it grew in popularity and became a charity event, with proceeds going to UNC Children's Hospital. In 2015, more than 8,000 runners participated. After learning that, you can begin to understand why the hospital wanted to celebrate the event by naming its children's clinic after it.

But get this: Krispy Kreme isn't officially affiliated with the race or UNC Health Care. All the company did was give the students permission to use its name in the title of the race. Krispy Kreme doesn't even donate the doughtnuts.

"The corporation is definitely not part of the name," Leslie Nelson, head of fundraising and communications at UNC Children's Hospital, told NPR. "It's named for a race! The name of the doughnut happens to be in the name of the race. But at the heart of it, it's about the race and about these kids."

While the hospital's intentions weren't to entangle their brand with a junk food giant, the public relations fallout has been brutal. Buzzfeed ran a snarky take on the name in an article called "Finally, A Krispy Kreme Health Clinic," and national media outlets, in addition to NPR, voiced their concern over the choice.

While Krispy Kreme Challenge Children's Specialty Clinic is still listed on the UNC Health Care website as the name of the hospital's Raleigh clinic, it's clear that the hospital—located in a state with high rates of childhood obesity—should find a new name that doesn't entice its young patients to crave a glazed donut after each visit.

The University of Colorado School of Medicine's Coca-Cola Grant
The University of Colorado School of Medicine, located in Aurora, recently backtracked on a more nefarious partnership with a sugary brand.

James O. Hill

Coca-Cola donated a $1 million grant to the school in 2014 to assist in establishing the Global Energy Balance Network (GEBN)—a nonprofit group of scientists who believe people should focus more on exercise and less about what they eat or drink.

In August, a New York Times article raised concerns that the soda giant was influencing medical research in an attempt to downplay the link between soda and obesity, citing the University of Colorado grant, among others.

The resulting fallout led Coke to disclose that it had given nearly $120 million over the past five years to groups fighting the obesity epidemic, including the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Both groups have since ended their relationships with Coca-Cola.

The Times article also pointed out that GEBN's website was registered to Coke's Atlanta headquarters, with the company as the site's administrator. But the group's president, James O. Hill, a professor at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, said those details weren't evidence of Coke's influence—GEBN members just didn't know how to set up a website.

"They're not running the show," he said. "We're running the show."

Ultimately the public outcry and negative publicity lead The University of Colorado to return the grant in November.

"Obesity and related health issues are serious concerns for personal medical care and public health," the university said in a release. "The School of Medicine and physicians and researchers on the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus are making significant contributions to the understanding of and care for these health-related issues and the source of funding for the network should not distract from their efforts."

The GEBN website says it is "discontinuing operations due to resource limitations."

Marianne Aiello is a contributing writer at HealthLeaders Media.

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