Children’s hospital under pressure to end “grotesque” ties with McDonald’s

BMJ 2008; 336 doi: (Published 13 March 2008) Cite this as: BMJ 2008;336:578
  1. Melissa Sweet
  1. 1Sydney

    Public health and cancer groups have called on a leading children’s hospital in Australia to end its long standing association with the fast food chain McDonald’s.

    And an expert in food policy in the United Kingdom has also called on UK hospitals not to play host to fast food outlets.

    The Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne is developing plans for its relocation in 2011, when the lease for the McDonald’s outlet in the hospital will also expire.

    Some staff are urging the hospital board to ban fast food outlets, including McDonald’s, from the new development.

    Mike South, a senior paediatrician at the hospital, said that having a prominent fast food chain on site was sending an unhealthy message to the community.

    “If public schools in Victoria have banned the serving of fast food at schools, then the children’s hospital should be able to take the lead as well,” he said.

    Louise Baur, a consultant paediatrician at the children’s hospital at Westmead, in Sydney, and chairwoman of the International Obesity Taskforce’s childhood obesity programme, described the association as a “running sore.”

    She knew of no other Australian children’s hospitals that house a McDonald’s.

    Professor Baur said that although some people might argue that fast food provides a treat for sick children, the bigger problem is “that fast food is aligning itself with this wonderful brand called the Royal Children’s Hospital.”

    Professor Baur urged the Department of Human Services in Victoria to intervene to ensure that healthy foods are provided in healthcare settings generally, rather than leave this particular decision to the Royal Children’s Hospital board.

    The hospital declined to comment, referring the BMJ to the Department of Human Services in Victoria, where a spokeswoman said that no decision had yet been made. “There are strong views on both sides of the argument,” she said.

    Melissa Wake, a paediatrician at the hospital and an obesity researcher, said it could be productive to encourage McDonald’s to provide healthier choices while taking the least healthy foods off the menu.

    “Fast food is here to stay, whether we like it or not,” she said. “Rather than stomping on just one brand, we can get that brand to move forward faster and to take some leadership. That might be beneficial in the bigger picture.”

    Tim Lang, professor of food policy at City University, London, did not think that was the answer. He said that UK hospitals should not allow fast food outlets, such as McDonald’s, to have space on their premises.

    “It is frankly pathetic that the public health world does not see the connection between allowing a brand that is famous for selling fatty, sugary goods and drinks on its own territory.

    “Public health should apply to its own practice what it is asking others to do. It shows that administrators see hospitals as sickness places not as prevention places. It somehow symbolises the way in which culture is now contemptuous of public health.”

    McDonald’s declined to comment.

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