Hospitals split on saying no to McDonald's

A Corpus Christi, Texas,. hospital says it has no plans to evict a McDonald's restaurant, despite a national campaign by a health advocacy group to keep Big Macs from being sold on hospital premises.

Driscoll Children's Hospital said in a prepared statement that it has a contract with McDonald's and business ethics require it remain true to the terms of the contract. The hospital would not disclose the terms.

Driscoll operates an adolescent weight management program where nutritionists, physical therapists, psychologists and endocrinologists help patients with weight loss and healthy eating. The program also offers bariatric surgery as a weight-reduction option. The hospital in 2009 became the first children's hospital in Texas to perform bariatric lap band surgery.

The advocacy group, Corporate Accountability International, sent a letter to 22 hospitals recently, including Driscoll, urging them to end their contracts with McDonald's in an effort to foster a healthier environment and curb the childhood obesity epidemic.

"In your role as a local health leader, you have allowed McDonald's -- a corporation that has disregarded public health in the name of profits -- to operate within an environment devoted to helping our children get well," the letter stated.

McDonald's said in a prepared statement that it is proud of its menu and its steps to offer more choices.

"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," the company said.

But the advocacy group, which is leading a larger campaign against the restaurant's marketing to children, arguedsthat hospitals with McDonald's send mixed messages to patients by giving the perception that the food is healthy. There are 14,000 McDonald's nationwide, including 26 in hospitals.

"Kids are being treated for diet-related conditions like diabetes and on another floor, there's the world's most recognized junk food brand on the planet," said Sriram Madhusoodanan, national campaign organizer at Corporate Accountability International.

Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas decided not to renew its contract with the fast food chain in December 2009, hospital spokeswoman Candace White said. It was replaced with a UFood Grill, which advertises healthy comfort food such as veggie burgers and steamed broccoli.

(Rhiannon Meyers is a reporter for the Caller-Times in Corpus Christi, Texas.)

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