Fast-food lovers, take note. Check into a hospital for surgery, and you do not have to settle for hospital food. Help is as near as the McDonald’s downstairs. Fast food chains are always on the lookout for opportunities, as Care2′s Sam Taxy points out in an article about their lobbying for food stamp allowances. Still, watching hospitals jump on board the gravy train sends the wrong message to consumers.
Dr. Rahul Parikh tried to find out why some of the 27 children’s hospitals with McDonald’s outlets agree to peddle fast food, knowing “they’ll get a black eye for doing it.” Their answer? Silence. Those who bothered to call back refused to comment.
The reasons are clear, as Dr. Parikh points out in his article for Salon. For fast-food companies, a setting where a lot of people pass through on an hourly basis offers good profit opportunities. Hospitals gain financially, earning rent and a percentage of profits. When hospitals are scrambling for funds to cover rising costs, the McDonald’s and Burger Kings of the corporate world are happy to lend a hand.
Some Hospitals Are Part of the Problem
A 2006 survey in Pediatrics found “59 of 200 hospitals with pediatric residencies had fast food restaurants.” The researchers asked 386 outpatients their attitudes toward fast food and McDonald’s food. To no one’s surprise, the presence of a McDonald’s increased both consumption of fast food and visitors’ perception that the food was healthy.
In a study published August 2011 in Childhood Obesity, University of California San Diego researcher Kerri Boutelle reports on a survey of 544 families entering a chain restaurant inside Rady’s Children’s Hospital in San Diego. They were offered a $2 incentive for handing over their receipts and answering a brief survey.
The results “showed that convenience resulted in lunchtime meals that accounted for between 36 and 51 percent of a child’s daily caloric needs. In addition, 35 to 39 percent of calories came from fat and the meals provided more than 50 percent of the recommended total daily sodium intake for most children – and as high as 100 percent of sodium levels recommended for pre-schoolers.”
Other Hospitals Are Healthy Role Models
Although hospitals in need of cash can easily find fast-food partners willing to help out, an increasing number of medical systems are opting for healthier fare. The one I am most familiar with is Kaiser Permanente. While living in Oakland, I was a member. Any time I visited the clinic, I parked in a garage that had a Food Pharmacy on the ground floor. The combination deli and market offered only healthy options. Inside the facility wholesome fare was available at all of the food outlets. Dr. Preston Maring launched a farmers’ market in 2003. Eight years later, the company hosts farmers’ markets in nine states.
Kaiser Permanente is a leader in the field of healthy food in hospitals, but they have a lot of company. Health Care Without Harm lists 355 facilities that have signed its Healthy Food Pledge and a growing number of hospitals who have taken its Balanced Menus Challenge.
Unless their intent is to make sure they do not run out of patients, hospitals need to be health models for their communities. They are well aware of the statistics that run like shock waves through the CDC slideshow that shows obesity rolling like a red tide over the country. For hospitals to be part of the problem is inexcusable. Easy money today will not cover the rising costs of diet-related illnesses tomorrow.
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