MONDAY, Dec. 4, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- Fast food restaurants set up inside many U.S. children's hospitals increase patient consumption of unhealthy meals and give some people the mistaken notion that the food is healthier than it is, a new study finds.
"At a time when obesity has become the most common, critical medical condition of childhood and consumption of fast food is widely considered to be a major contributor to this epidemic, the location of such restaurants in pediatric health care facilities promotes dietary choices that are contrary to the desired messages and established recommendations of our profession," lead researcher and pediatrician Dr. Hannah Sahud, of Allegheny General Hospital in Pittsburgh, said in a prepared statement.
Her team evaluated 200 pediatric hospitals and found that 59 of them had fast food restaurants on site. They also surveyed 386 adults with children making pediatric outpatient visits at three hospitals: one with an onsite McDonald's restaurant; one without an onsite McDonald's, but with an affiliation with a Ronald McDonald House; and one with neither a restaurant or branding.
Fast food consumption on the day of the survey was most common among those who were at the hospital with the McDonald's (56 percent vs. 33 percent for the hospital with no restaurant or McDonald's affiliation). The onsite McDonald's accounted for 95 percent of the fast food consumed by that hospital's respondents, and 83 percent of them bought food at the McDonald's in the hospital.
Survey respondents at the hospital also rated McDonald's food as being healthier than respondents at the other two hospitals, the study said.
"We have demonstrated for the first time that the marketing of fast food restaurants in the setting of a children's hospital is associated with a substantial increase in the purchase of fast food by outpatients and their families and an elevated perception as to the healthiness of that food," Sahud said.
The Nemours Foundation offers parents advice about healthy nutrition for children.