I am one of those people who has seen Morgan Spurlock’s documentary, “Super Size Me.” The movie follows Spurlock as he conducts an unscientific experiment in which he eats all of his daily meals at McDonald’s for a month. As part of his experiment, Spurlock must agree to supersize his meal if the McDonald’s clerk makes that offer. He also decides not to exercise during that month, limiting himself to less than 5,000 steps a day. Before starting the experiment, Spurlock is tested by a general practitioner, a cardiologist and a gastroenterologist. At that point the doctors concur that his health is outstanding. A month later after keeping to this regime, Spurlock’s health prognosis has definitely declined. I found the movie to be very eye opening and encourage you to watch it, if you haven’t already. I found that the movie influenced my choices in such a way that, other than an occasional run through a fast food drive-through, I have pretty much cut these types of food out of my regular diet.
Based on Spurlock’s experience, I found a recent CBS News story very alarming. A study by Dr. Wesley Boyd of Harvard Medical School that was just published in the American Journal of Public Health discovered that major insurers of health, disability and long-term care have invested nearly $2 billion in fast food chains. For instance, Northwestern Mutual owns $422.2 million in fast-food stock with $318.1 million invested in McDonald’s. Massachusetts Mutual has $366.5 million in this type of stock, with $267.2 invested in McDonald’s. ING, which offers life and disability insurance, invested $406.1 million in fast food stock, of which $12.3 million is in Jack in the Box, $311 million is in McDonald’s, and $82.1 million is in Yum!Brands (the owners of Pizza Hut, KFC, and Taco Bell). Prudential Financial has $355.5 million in this type of stock, with significant amounts invested in McDonald’s, Burger King, Jack-in-the Box, and Yum! Brands. "There’s a ton of irony in it," Boyd was quoted as saying in the article. "In order to generate profits, they will invest in any area they need to … to make money, even if what they invest in (in this case fast food) is an industry that is known to cause people to get sick and to die early."
Fast food restaurants are obviously a big part of our culture and, when customers make proper choices, can definitely make meals convenient. However, it is scary that the many of the companies that are underwriting our health insurance seem to also be investing in ways to undermine our health. As a consumer, I can see several ways to go.
First of all, we can make the decision to stop eating at fast food restaurants, although that can be difficult for many busy people and families. Still if more people boycott these restaurants, the insurance industry might see their return on investment decrease, thus causing them to consider other investment options.
The second option that consumers can do is encourage the insurance industry to pressure the fast food industry to continue to make healthier options available. I know that many fast food restaurants have made progress in this area, but more work can be done and I believe the health insurance companies can lead the way.
A third option is to continue to eat at these fast food restaurants, but make healthier choices when you order. Again, it goes back to supply and demand. If more people opt for a salad or chose the grilled instead of fried chicken, consumers could start a grassroots movement that can push the restaurants to increase the number of healthier menu options since those items are the ones being sold. By voting with our wallets, we can reform the fast food industry without waiting for the health insurance corporations to make a decision to do the right thing.
So if you opt for the third option, how can you figure out what to order? I’d suggest checking out the website, “Eat This, Not That,” which provides valuable information that can help you make good decisions when you drive up to the drive-through speaker. Here’s a link to an article entitled, “The Worst Fast-Food Meals in America," which can help you better make informed choices.
It’s sad to think that health insurance companies are investing in areas that potentially can be detrimental to our health. But that just goes to remind each of us that the responsibility for our diets (and our health) rests in our own hands.
Published On: May 19, 2010