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Tue, Jan 04, 2005 - Page 12 News List

One US hospital considers ouster of fast-food outlets

MIXED MESSAGE Doctors at a leading heart clinic in the US want the fast-food chains in its food court to leave, saying they send the wrong message to patients


Andrew Hudnall stared at his lunch and agonized about whether his doctor might be unhappy with him.

The 57-year-old heart patient had just bought a chicken sandwich from McDonald's -- in the food court of the Cleveland Clinic, renowned for its research into heart disease.

"People are here for heart problems, including me. I get in here, and this is tempting," said Hudnall, who was in a hurry and didn't want to fight the crowd at other restaurants or the clinic cafeteria.

Even so, he said he agrees with efforts by the clinic's leading doctors to get some fast-food franchises out of the building. Pizza Hut, a division of Yum Brands Inc, has already left. Nine others remain, including McDonald's and Subway.

At a time when two-thirds of US adults are overweight or obese, putting their hearts and arteries at grave risk, health officials and physicians are urging people to watch their weight and eat healthier.

Having french fries at a leading center for treating heart disease sends the wrong message, officials of the Cleveland Clinic believe.

"We are hoping we are setting some kind of a trend ... about wellness," said Angela Calman, Cleveland Clinic spokeswoman. "We're not singling out McDonald's. We're looking at every vendor on campus and asking if this represents what we are trying to present to our patients."

Representatives of the clinic and McDonald's met recently to try to work out a compromise. Neither side will discuss details, saying only they plan to meet again soon.

Nationwide, there does not seem to be much of a trend toward ejecting fast-food companies from hospitals.

"We are in about 36 hospitals right now and have been for quite some time," said Ken Barun, McDonald's Corp senior vice president who oversees the company's "balanced lifestyle initiative," which promotes healthy food choices and physical fitness.

It's not uncommon for hospitals to earn money by leasing space to food court companies or restaurants. The clinic would not comment on details of its leases, including how much money it might lose if McDonald's leaves.

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