Fries and Healing Don't Mix: Many Hospitals Stop Serving McDonald’s

Medical facilities are telling Ronald McDonald to hit the bricks so they can offer healthier food options.
As hospital meals evolve, McDonald's gets pushed out. (Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Jan 5, 2013· 2 MIN READ
A Bay Area native, Andri Antoniades has previously worked as a fashion industry journalist and a medical writer.

Yes, to answer what will undoubtedly be your first question, hospitals across our great nation house McDonald’s franchises inside their hallowed halls. The marriage of a healthcare center and a burger franchise may seem like a contradiction, and that’s probably because, well, it is. But as the healthcare industry (finally) begins viewing food as medicine, hospitals are starting to sever ties with the world’s leading purveyor of sugary, salty sustenance.

In an interview with NPR, Truman Hospital CEO John Bluford says the unlikely marriage between greasy burgers and healthcare facilities all started 20 years ago, when it was trendy for hospitals to sign long-term leases with McDonald’s. Why? “One, because there wasn't the kind of emphasis on healthy eating. And those franchises used to pay a nice penny to lease the space.” Since then, Bluford says it's become abundantly clear that in terms of purpose, there's a conflict of interest, but some facilities still need the revenue.

Among the healthcare centers housing a McDonald’s franchise, 27 of them are children’s hospitals, according to Salon. And it’s easy to see why. Pediatric facilities in particular are always in need of more money, especially as they receive smaller payouts from insurance companies. Not only does the McDonald’s pay the hospital money to rent the space, but it often also pays the facility a generous portion of its profits.

MORE: You're Going to Need a New Lame Joke: Hospital Food Isn't Awful Anymore

Nonetheless, the tide seems to be turning. Last year a campaign by Corporate Accountability International urged administrators in 22 healthcare facilities to stop facilitating the sale of McDonald’s on their property. The accusations it leveled against the fast-food chain included its marketing of junk food as health food, especially to children. Dr. Francine Kaufman, former president of the American Diabetes Association, said in a public statement, “Kids are being treated for diet-related conditions like diabetes on one floor in the hospital and given the wrong message by being offered the world’s most recognized junk food brand on another floor in the hospital.”

Whether that particular campaign will result in more closures than previously planned remains to be seen, but some hospitals, like John Bluford’s Truman Hospital in Missouri, have already shut down their in-house franchises. Others are choosing not to renew their leases once they're up; Children’s Hospital in Philadelphia went that route, finally saying "goodbye" to the chain after 34 years of its presence in the hospital cafeteria. And others like Kosair Children’s Hospital in Louisville, KY, have announced they will not renew their leases with the franchise once they expire.

As for the rest? Much like signing a deal with the devil, once you’re in with McDonald’s, it’s not exactly easy to walk away. First, there’s the money. But more than that, healthcare facilities have a notoriously difficult time breaking their leases with the fast-food chain, and some have contracts that extend for as long as 30 years. The Cleveland Clinic in particular lost its battle to break its McDonald’s lease, and to this day the golden arches still take up space within its facility.

But this is about more than a fight for sales space. McDonald's is angling to reap the more subtle but crucial benefits of appearing “healthy” to consumers by aligning itself with healthcare centers. Sound unbelievable? Salon reports that according to a 2006 study, parents who bought McDonald's at the hospital-based restaurants believed that the fast-food chain was a hospital benefactor. Moreover, they had an increase in positive perceptions of the level of healthiness provided by the McDonald's menu.

Still, the golden arches are in for a battle. As more hospitals make an effort to align themselves with fresh, unprocessed food choices, McDonald's may finally find itself obsolete.

Do you think ridding hospitals of McDonald's is going to have a real impact on staff and visitors' health? Or will people who want to eat junk food still find a way to eat it? Let us know in the Comments.