It appears to be a first in Australia. In a move that may earn them worried admiration in the Australian health and corporate communities, a small-city hospital near Sydney, New South Wales, is considering turning down a $66,000 donation from two of the community’s good citizens. Shellharbour Hospital would make good use of the money being offered to fund new equipment for its emergency department. The hospital has gratefully received similar contributions from Glenn and Katia Dwarte before.
The problem is the hospital is having second thoughts about the source of the money. The Dwartes run the nearby Warilla McDonald’s, and Shellharbour Hospital officials are concerned that accepting the money sends the wrong message about fast food. Turning down the money from these two respected and caring people will send a message that may encourage other health agencies and cause concern in some corporate sectors.
Junk Food and Health Care
Corporate sponsorship of health-related programs is so common many do not stop to question it. After all, corporations have money. They make good-citizen points by being community supporters. Non-profits need the money to carry out their work.
The issue is hypocrisy. When I first moved to the town where I live now, I was startled to find pop, candy and chips in the vending machines at the door of the emergency room. With junk food implicated in obesity, diabetes, and other food-related health-care costs, the vending machines were a curious touch, as if the hospital wanted to make sure it never ran out of patients.
Since then British Columbia’s health system has made strides in demanding healthier choices from vendors. Still, junk food continues to be accessible in far more places in B.C. communities than are healthy options.
Signs of Change But More Needed
Health Care Without Harm provides solid leadership in the areas of healthy food and sustainable food systems. Many U.S. hospitals have signed onto the Balanced Menus Challenge, and over 350 have signed the Healthy Food in Health Care Pledge. So if Shellharbour Hospital declines the fast-food money, they will have plenty of allies and role models. They will also be taking a small step toward acknowledging one of the ways corporations influence the delivery of health care.
There are others the action won’t affect. Pharmaceutical companies buy the good will of physicians. Insurance and managed-care companies pressure politicians to drag their feet on health care reform. Groups like the American Council on Science and Health use support from Coca-Cola, Kellogg, General Mills, Pepsico, the American Beverage Association and others to “add reason and balance to debates about public health issues and bring common sense views to the public.” (Translation: Assure the public that junk-food purveyors and corporate-sponsored researchers have public health foremost in mind.)
Jane Martin, senior advisor for Australia’s Obesity Policy Coalition called McDonald’s generosity what it really is, and that’s why Shellharbour’s decision is about more than one donation. According to the Western Advocate, she “supported the hospital’s response and said McDonald’s used relationships with hospitals, junior sports and schools to ‘weightwash’ its image.”
Hospitals do need the money corporations offer, but they would need less money if corporations were not contributing to the very conditions that put people in those hospitals.
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Photo from npclark2k via morgueFile