Students fight for removal of McDonald’s in hospitals
UH students are pushing to create a healthier environment for the next generation of children.
Students have added momentum to nonprofit group Corporate Accountability International’s campaign, called “Value [the] Meal,” to stop Texas Children’s Hospital from renewing its contract with McDonald’s.
The Value [the] Meal campaign’s goal is to end junk food marketing aimed at children. The group’s ultimate goal is to end McDonald’s’ contract with Texas Children’s Hospital and Ben Taub Hospital.
“University of Houston students are integral in building the movement to challenge corporate abuse (and) to call out McDonald’s on its targeted marketing directed at children that many of us experienced growing up,” said anthropology senior Victoria Estes, one of three UH students interning with the Value [the] Meal campaign.
The three interns, Estes, sociology junior Claire McCown and business management senior J’Lynn Cravanas-Sasser, have varying roles with the campaign, ranging from grassroots tactics to volunteer recruiting and media outreach. All work toward the goal of ending the presence of junk food marketing in kid-friendly environments.
“This campaign organizes to end aggressive junk food marketing to children in trusted places such as schools and hospitals,” Estes said. “With cases of Type 2 diabetes having tripled in the past 30 years, it just doesn’t make sense to have our leading health institutions promoting the world’s most recognized junk food brand.”
McCown worked with volunteers to acquire over 1,000 petitions.
“I also built relationships with several volunteers and organizations throughout the campaign to build community support,” McCown said. “This campaign is incredibly important because our food system is broken. It’s making people sick and refusing communities the nutrients they need.”
Students aren’t just signing petitions. They are also getting actively involved in the campaign.
“UH volunteers have provided much of the support we’ve needed with various tactics on the campaign,” McCown said. “From petitions to generating phone calls to training community members, UH students and Houstonians have contributed greatly.”
Even though the campaign’s main goal is to convince Texas Children’s and Ben Taub to remove McDonald’s from their premises, it also hopes to have a long lasting impact on the youth of the community.
“This campaign has taught me that health education and holding food corporations responsible for the abusive way they market their food to hook children as lifelong customers is so much easier than treating a diet-related disease,” Estes said.
According to a 2015 study performed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 18 percent of children ages 6 to 11 are obese, while more than 33 percent are either overweight or obese — a drastic increase compared to 1980’s figure of 7 percent of children being obese.
Dr. James Hoyle, a pediatrician and Medical Director of Clinical Operations at Kelsey-Seybold Clinic’s Main Campus, said educating the public is paramount to making a positive difference in the fight against fast food and childhood obesity.
“It is no coincidence that the rates of childhood obesity are increasing as fast food companies aim more and more of their advertising at youth,” Hoyle said. “I have worked here for over 40 years, and from my personal observations, childhood obesity has been trending upward nearly the entire time.”
Daphne Hernandez, an assistant professor of health and human performance, explained that this increase in obesity rates has to do with the nutritional value of fast food.
“The concern with fast food is that it is calorically dense,” Hernandez said. “Overall, the majority of fast food options are high in fat, salt and sugar. These factors are the main reason you are seeing a rise in obesity rates as people consume an increasing amount of fast food.”
However, no matter how much they educate the community, the campaign needs the cooperation of the hospitals to make their vision a reality.
According to a 2013 report by NPR, there are 22 hospitals in the nation that still contain a McDonald’s. Two of those hospitals are in Houston.
The campaign is currently gathering 50 hand-written letters addressed to the hospitals in hopes that they will take the community’s concerns into consideration.
“We are invested in the cause to end aggressive junk food marketing toward children in hospitals in order to stop the epidemic of diet-related diseases,” McCown said. “We are here to demand that the very hospitals that keep our children healthy create an environment that is filled with fresh food at an affordable cost.”