In a letter to 22 hospital administrators last week, Boston-based Corporate Accountability International called for the removal of McDonald’s franchise locations from the healthcare facilities because the chain is “the world’s most recognized junk food brand.” The move is part of an ongoing effort by activists to curtail the marketing of unhealthful menu offerings to children by McDonald’s and other quick-service chains.
The group said that the association of the McDonald's brand with healthcare facilities sends the wrong message to children about healthful eating.
“Simply put, the less kids are exposed to fast food and its marketing, the less likely they are to suffer from diet-related conditions like type 2 diabetes,” said Sara Deon, Corporate Accountability International’s campaign director on the issue who signed the letter. “McDonald’s has a long history of putting a healthy label on an inherently unhealthy brand. It has used healthcare providers and institutions to help promote this image for decades. Today, administrators have the opportunity to provide a healthier food environment for the children and families they care for.”
Danya Proud, a spokeswoman for McDonald’s USA, said in a statement that the 14,000-unit chain has 26 locations in hospitals across the United States that offer a wide variety of menu choices that fall within guidelines for healthful eating. “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,” she said. “We’re 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.”
Officials at several hospitals contacted Monday declined to comment or didn’t return press calls.
The campaign to remove McDonald’s from hospital sites, however, is supported by doctors such as Dr. Francine Kaufman, former president of the American Diabetes Association and professor emeritus of pediatrics and communications at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, which has a McDonald’s on campus.
“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 Kaufman in a statement. “The practice earns McDonald’s an undeserved association with healthfulness among parents and children alike.”
Last year the American Hospital Association issued a report calling on foodservice facilities to improve food offerings so hospital employees could serve as better role models for good health and nutritional choices.
John Friedman, spokesman for foodservice contract management giant Sodexo’s healthcare division, said hospitals have been asking for more nutritious options in recent years. The contractor has been working with its chefs and dietitians to eliminate trans fats in dishes, as well as reducing sodium, sugar and fat overall at its foodservice sites in more than 1,200 hospitals across the country. Sodexo has also adopted Meatless Mondays at 74 percent of its facilities, offering meat-free dishes one day per week.
“We’re trying to be on the side of offering healthy choices that are delicious and compelling,” Friedman said.
However, there is a component of offering patients and families under stress something familiar and comforting, Friedman said regarding the outside brands that hospitals sometimes request as part of a facility’s foodservice options. “Sometimes it’s a balance between whether this is something we’d love for them to eat or something we can get them to eat when they’re not eating,” he said.