MIAMI, April 13 (UPI) -- A national watchdog group says it wants U.S. hospitals to kick McDonald's restaurants off their premises "to stop fostering" an unhealthy food environment.
Corporate Accountability International this week urged medical facilities to remove the fast-food giant's eateries "to help curb the epidemic of diet-related disease and to stop fostering a food environment that promotes harm, not health."
The CAI has made the demand to help fight an obesity epidemic it alleges creates medical problems costing the nation more than those of cigarette smokers, The Miami Herald reported.
Sriram Madhusoodanan, a spokesman for Corporate Responsibility International, said more than 1,900 healthcare professionals signed a letter sponsored by CAI to McDonald's Chief Executive Jim Skinner last year, asking he "stop marketing junk food to children."
"Predatory marketing to children was the hallmark of Big Tobacco nearly two decades ago," Madhusoodanan wrote in an e-mail. "McDonald's and the fast food industry have taken a page right out of Big Tobacco's playbook and are driving an epidemic of diet-related diseases by getting kids addicted to their junk food at a young age and building brand loyalties that last a lifetime."
McDonald's spokeswoman Danya Proud countered saying the company is proud of its evolving menu choices, the Herald said. "It's not about where you eat [but] how much a person chooses to consume," Proud said.
Fighting McDonald's has been problematic on a financial and public relations level.
Broward Health spokeswoman Jenny Mackie said her organization had a "longstanding relationship with McDonald's, including an on-campus Ronald McDonald House" that houses parents of severely sick children, the financing of which is provided through a foundation associated with McDonald's.
"Their support was instrumental in funding the opening of our Pediatric Intensive Care Unit and they have been active members of our Community Relations Council," Mackie said.
Toby Cosgrove, a heart surgeon and chief executive of the Cleveland Clinic, tried unsuccessfully to remove the fast-food behemoth in 2004, the Herald said.
"It turned out the owner of that McDonald's was an African-American. McDonald's played the race card. It got difficult," Cosgrove said. Cosgrove backed down after the owner said he'd add carrots and apples to the menu even though he said he knew most patrons would keep ordering Big Macs and fries.
"We were not particularly interested in having open warfare with McDonald's," Cosgrove said.