January 13, 2016

Racking up victories in the movement to kick McDonald’s out of hospitals

Could McDonald’s in hospitals be on the verge of becoming obsolete, just as cigarette sales in hospitals became? If the big news from this past month is any indication, the answer is yes.

First, Allina Health, the not-for-profit parent of Abbott Northwestern Hospital in Minneapolis, decided to end its contract with McDonald’s early, booting the store off hospital premises by May. Then, our allies at Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine broke the story that both Children’s Hospital Los Angeles and Driscoll Children’s Hospital (Corpus Christi, Texas) also closed their McDonald’s stores in the last year. These came on the heels of Cleveland Clinic’s August announcement of its own McDonald’s store closure.

This is huge. It is clear that, increasingly, hospital administrators understand what our campaign has highlighted since its launch: McDonald’s relies on hospitals to healthwash its brand. It attempts to associate itself with trusted health institutions like hospitals as part of a comprehensive marketing strategy for its fundamentally unhealthy products. And these hospitals have no interest in being used by McDonald’s any longer.

For evidence, look no further than Abbott Northwestern’s announcement, which was significant for two reasons:

First, this is the first time that we know of a hospital absorbing the cost of terminating its McDonald’s contract early — in this case, a full decade early. Moreover, when we first launched this call, the hospital cited the expense of contract termination as a reason for keeping its McDonald’s. It’s clear just how far our Value [the] Meal campaign in partnership with a growing movement of parents, health professionals, and educators has shifted the public climate — and the cost-benefit ratio — around McDonald’s in hospitals in just three short years.

Second, this is the first time that we’re seeing hospital administrations drawing clear links between the tobacco industry and the fast food industry. We have long known that McDonald’s strategy of siting stores in hospitals and other respected institutions borrows directly from Big Tobacco’s playbook for healthwashing its image decades earlier. As the CEO of Allina Health noted, while it was once commonplace for cigarettes to be sold in hospital gift shops, that would now be considered wholly inappropriate. “I suspect there will be a day when we look back at this and it will seem the same way.”

We couldn’t agree more! In 2016, we’ll build on this momentum to compel more hospitals to end their ties with the burger giant. Together, we’re ensuring that McDonald’s can no longer healthwash its brand, and we’re holding it accountable for the abuses to human health that it drives.

Sriram Madhusoodanan is the Deputy Director: Campaigns who oversees the food and climate campaigns.  

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