Many leading US hospitals are contracting fast food companies to provide their catering services, a move which sends a mixed message about healthy eating, researchers claim.
In a research letter published in the 12 June issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers at the University of Michigan Health System and Ann Arbor VA Medical Center found that 38 per cent of the top health institutions in the US had regional or national fast food franchises on their main medical campuses.
"Obesity is rising at an alarming rate in the United States, with nearly 18 per cent of adult Americans now considered obese. High-calorie diets, due in part to fast food, are partially to blame," said Peter Cram, lead author of the letter and lecturer in the internal medicine department at UMHS. "However, fast food restaurants continue to pop up across the country and hospitals appear to be no exception."
Researchers carried out telephone interviews with the 16 top hospitals in the US, and found that six of them had fast food restaurants. Four of them had contracted two separate fast food chains at the same time. Ironically, one of the six institutions using fast food catering services was the University of Michigan Health System itself.
Co-author Brahmajee Nallamothu said that this discovery had inspired the research. "I always found it odd that as a health institution we had a fast food chain in our facility, and I wondered if other top hospitals also did. But through my research I found the UMHS food services department works hard to make sure the fast food chain offers healthy choices. In fact, the restaurant specifically marks the healthy food items on its menu."
Mark Fendrick, another co-author of the letter as well as co-director of the Consortium for Health Outcomes, Innovation, Cost Effectiveness Studies or CHOICES at UMHS, pointed out that hospitals are businesses and they have certain needs they need to address.
"I realise these hospitals need to address important economic issues such as customer satisfaction, employee retention and financial viability, and I believe fast food restaurants in hospitals offer patients and their families a sense of comfort," he said. "However, if hospitals and the medical profession are to remain respected leaders in health promotion, we should re-visit the idea of serving fast food in the very place that we care for our most seriously ill."