Doctors and health activists protest McDonald’s at JPS Hospital

About 20 people, including health care workers, gathered outside John Peter Smith Hospital in Fort Worth on Thursday with red and yellow signs to protest the existence of a McDonald’s restaurant on the first floor of the hospital.

The posters, which called out the hospital administration with questions such as: “Do McGreasy’s meals help patients heal?” are part of an effort by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, a national nonprofit organization, to rid hospitals of fast-food establishments. meals that offer dishes high in fat and meat.

Thursday’s protest and subsequent testimony at the hospital’s Board of Trustees meeting marked the second time this year that health activists have demanded Tarrant County State Hospital end its lease with McDonald’s in exchange for another, healthier alternative to the restaurant. A smaller core group spoke to the board on the issue in June.

“This is not a way to attack hospitals, but is presented as a rational statement based on peer-reviewed evidence,” said Dallas-based cardiologist Dr. John Pippin. “Hospitals are working against themselves and against their patients by providing this type of food.”

The growing movement to shut down fast food restaurants in health care settings has gained momentum over the past decade as studies increasingly link poor diets to chronic diseases such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure.

The Physicians Committee, which has more than 17,000 members nationwide, has positioned itself at the forefront of the movement, advocating for the closing of McDonald’s restaurants at facilities such as Ben Taub Hospital in Houston and Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta. Ben Taub attributed the restaurant’s closing to flooding from Hurricane Harvey, while Grady Memorial did not give a reason for the McDonald’s closing.

Hospital settings have a “captivating audience” for cheap and convenient food options, Pippin said. Switching to plant-based foods could help a patient’s health journey instead of working against it.

Selling fast food to patients who already have health problems “is like trying to empty a bathtub without turning off the water,” he said.

JPS Health spokeswoman Jessamy Brown said the hospital is looking at all available food options for the future with a particular focus on healthy food products, convenience and affordability.

“JPS Health Network offers very enjoyable and affordable foods on site. The hospital cafeteria is open daily to staff members, patients and all visitors and offers a variety of healthy food choices,” Brown said in an email. “JPS is in the process of partnering with a vendor to deliver salads, wraps and healthy breakfast options to vending machines throughout the hospital.”

McDonald’s Corp. did not respond to a request for comment.

Dr. John Pippin and others gather to protest McDonalds at John Peter Smith Hospital, Thursday, Oct. 13, 2022, in Fort Worth. (Rebecca Slezak / Staff Photographer)

Dr. Rizwan Bukhari, a vascular surgeon and founder of the North Texas Vascular Center, said he switched to a plant-based diet after seeing his patients suffer from chronic diseases. He said health care facilities in the Dallas-Fort Worth area have the ability to educate patients on how to prevent preventable diseases that are worsened by a poor diet.

“The food choices we offer in hospitals is something that speaks to the community,” Bukhari said. “And if we support McDonald’s, we’re telling people it’s okay to eat that food.”

Supporters of Thursday’s protest came from across the state. Kathryn Lawrence, a Keller nutritionist, raised the same concerns in 2019 when the hospital’s lease with McDonald’s was set to expire. This agreement was extended.

Lawrence, who brought her 11-year-old son, John Patrick, to the event, said she hopes the hospital’s board will be more receptive to the restaurant’s closure as people have become more health conscious since COVID -19.

Buhari also expressed hope that continued communication with the JPS administration would lead to the closure of the McDonald’s despite previous efforts to do so failing.

“It is very clear that hospitals across the country are moving away from unhealthy fast food and offering healthier alternatives,” he said. “Honestly, I think it’s just a matter of time here.”

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