If you've noticed billboards on Almeda or Old Spanish Trail urging Ben Taub Hospital to go #FastFoodFree, that's a message aimed at the hospital over its in-house McDonald’s, which dwells rather appropriately (according to critics) on the building's basement level. Nonprofit Physicians Committee — composed of some 12,000 doctors nationwide — is pushing for McDonald's to get the boot, as the fast-food company's lease (actually a lease extension) is up on September 24, 2017, though there is a chance it could get another five-year renewal. The hospital reportedly has a "percentage rent" agreement with McDonald's, which allows it to make money from the fast-food eatery's sales.
"It just seems to be so counterintuitive to me that a place that's here to provide health care to people is offering the worst food possible for them and making money off of it," local physician Dr. Bandana Chawla tells the Houston Press. Chawla will speak for three scant minutes on Thursday, April 27, to the Ben Taub board of trustees, urging public health to prevail over Big Macs.
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Eleven U.S. hospitals are currently home to McDonald’s, but Chawla believes that the tides may indeed be turning, with three hospitals, including Parkland in Dallas, bailing on McDonald's leases between 2015 and 2016.
It's estimated that people who eat two to three fast-food meals a week increase their risk of dying from heart disease by 50 percent, according to the journal Circulation . "Some people think it's comfort food," Chawla says of the hospital's McDonald's. " But two or more of these fast-food meals a day increases the chance of diabetes by 40 percent." She also says that a report published last year estimated that the number of overweight or obese non-physician hospital staff at Ben Taub hovers around a whopping 78 percent.
While Chawla fights to get McDonald's out of the hospital, she also notes that the cafeteria is not necessarily a viable option for healthier dining there, with limited hours and food that can be just about as unhealthy as fast food.
Currently there's an online petition calling for an upgrade of Ben Tab Hospital's food options at MakeHospitalsHealthy.org, and those billboards, which feature an image of a woman in a hospital bed and the caption Clogged Arteries? Your Heart’s Not Lovin’ the Burgers and Shakes. Ask your local hospital to go #FastFoodFree!, will be up until May 21.