Fast Food Now Available at Many of the Nation’s ‘Top’ Hospitals, Survey Shows
Although health professionals often attribute "high-fat, high-calorie fast food" to the increasing number of overweight and obese Americans, more than 33% of the nation's leading hospitals have fast food restaurants on their premises, according to a new survey, Reuters Health reports. Researchers at the University of Michigan conducted telephone surveys in earlier this year with 16 medical centers listed as the nation's top hospitals by US News & World Report in 2001. The survey found that six of the 16 hospitals had a fast food franchise on their grounds. Of those, four hospitals had contracts with two fast food chains. One hospital reported that it closed a fast food restaurant in 1999 but later opened a hospital-owned restaurant serving a similar menu. Study author Dr. Peter Cram of the University of Michigan Medical School, said, "When you see fast food in prominent academic medical centers -- hospitals -- you have to say: Are we contradicting ourselves?" He added, "Hospitals may wish to revisit the idea of servicing high-calorie fast food in the very place where they also care for the most seriously ill." Cram said that it is unlikely that hospitals are serving fast food to patients but are instead trying to "appeal to visitors and employees." The survey findings were published as a letter to the editor in yesterday's issue of JAMA (Stenson, Reuters Health, 6/11).
In related news, the Wall Street Journal today reports on how U.S. food and beverage makers are preparing legal defense strategies in case they are "accused in lawsuits of fomenting a burgeoning national health crisis." With obesity set to overtake tobacco use as the nation's top cause of preventable death, lawmakers are considering several proposals to address the issue, including taxes on junk food marketed to children and labels for high-sodium and high-fat foods. Meanwhile, some lawsuits have been filed accusing food makers of deceptive marketing, and legal experts say lawsuits may be filed linking food products to obesity, much like litigation was used against the tobacco industry as a public health strategy, the Journal reports. Still, experts say such claims would be more difficult to prove because food is not as addictive as cigarettes, and obesity has not been linked to certain types of food. To prepare for such claims, food and beverage makers have been discussing the possibility of airing public service announcements promoting healthy diets and exercise (Branch, Wall Street Journal, 6/13). In an accompanying article, the Journal reports on the USDA's food pyramid, which critics say focuses too much on reducing fat intake. The USDA is currently reviewing its dietary guidelines (Carroll, Wall Street Journal, 6/13).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.