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Hospitals and Fast Food

August 13, 2010

Ronald McDonald House, Birmingham

Dr. Davis Liu is a family physician with the Permanente Medical Group and the author of Stay Healthy, Live Longer, Spend Wisely, which is about making intelligent choices in the healthcare system of America as we currently know it. In the piece we’re looking at today, he says,

The real question is whether our corporations will begin taking on this new social responsibility in keeping our nation healthy or would they rather wish to continue to kill their customers slowly from inside out and dump the health consequences onto an increasingly dysfunctional [and] expensive healthcare system.

Liu comments on people who say that the government can solve the childhood obesity epidemic. He thinks they’re kidding, or if they aren’t kidding, they should be. He believes that government does have a role in society, but no matter whether he believes it or not, or how many other people believe it, the government is not able to fix this problem. Legislation just can’t do it.

And neither can the doctors. One of the reasons: A survey of doctors found that, in 72 percent of their practices, nobody in the office was trained to discuss weight management with patients. Which may explain why there are so many independent nutritional consultants, whether the medical establishment likes it or not. The demand is undeniably there.

Liu is very optimistic that corporations will change their nature and become less evil, a proposition which, quite frankly, requires a huge leap of faith. But, however we may feel about it, certain facts stare us in the face. As Liu points out — and this is a biggie —

[…] McDonald’s top chef, Dan Coudreaut, will impact more lives on a daily basis than any doctor could ever advise over an entire career.

The Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation is an organization with 16 corporate members who, between them, make between 20 and 25% of the food eaten by people in the U.S. Incidentally, McDonald’s is not a member. Yes, we’re going talk about Mickey D’s. But first, let’s recap.

McDonald’s produces fast food, and each and every day, 60 million customers are affected by the substances served by this chain alone. That’s a lot of clout. The mascot corporate symbol, Ronald McDonald, has been in the medical field for some time now, but someone forgot to tell Ronald the doctors’ prime directive: “First, do no harm.”

The various ingredients and preparation methods involved in producing fast food have been blamed for causing cancer, diabetes, obesity, acne, antibiotic resistance, heart disease, stroke, hyperactivity, kidney failure (via food poisoning), and liver damage (because it can’t keep up with breaking down all the fat).

We say that Ronald McDonald has been in the medical field because of the Ronald McDonald Houses, where parents can stay while their children are treated at the world’s health care centers. Philadelphia was the locale of the first one, and the venerable Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia commemorates this close association by housing McDonald’s Restaurant #16873 inside its premises. The one pictured on the page you’re reading is in Birmingham, Alabama. Given the correlation between fast food and ill health, this is all so ironic.

We need a word stronger than “irony” to describe our feelings when a giant corporation uses the Ronald McDonald House helping-kids-and-families theme in its TV commercials. It’s a kind of emotional judo, working on the emergent altruism of preschoolers, by telling them that their parents should buy Happy Meals because it will help other kids. There is just something about it that feels very wrong.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “McDonald’s Will Impact Obesity Issue More Than Docs,” Basil & Spice, 05/20/10
Source: “Happy Meals Commercial,” YouTube
Image by ell brown, used under its Creative Commons license.

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