Doctors’ group campaigns against Chick-fil-A at MUSC

MUSC has no intention of booting Chick-fil-A off its campus, despite being the target of a national campaign to shame hospitals into reconsidering their partnerships with the fast-food chain.

The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, a D.C.-based organization of 12,000 doctors, last week placed advertisements mocking Chick-fil-A in 20 cities where the restaurant has a hospital outlet. In Charleston, placards reading “Ask your local hospital to go fast food free!” appeared in every CARTA bus used for main line and express service.

“We feel hospitals should be setting a good example, and not be serving unhealthy options like processed meat,” committee member Stephen Neabore says. “We just want healthy options.”

But a spokeswoman for MUSC counters that the hospital already offers an array of nutritionally sound meals, noting it received an award from the S.C. Hospital Association for fostering a healthy food environment. “Our chefs and dietitians appear frequently on local TV demonstrating healthy cooking techniques,” Heather Woolwine says. “Our guest chef series brings chefs from local restaurants into our cafeterias to cook some of their well-known items that we’ve tweaked to be more mindful.”

Sales at the Chick-fil-A in the University Hospital represent 10 percent of total food sales on campus, Woolwine says.

According to the group behind the ads, Chick-fil-A’s contract with the University of Mississippi’s Medical Center calls for the hospital to “make every reasonable effort to maximize the gross receipts” of its resident Chick-fil-A.

“It seems like kind of a conflict of interest when you’re promoting fast food,” Neabore says, citing the linkage between obesity and diseases such as Type 2 Diabetes.

Advertisements picturing white-coated doctors holding signs saying “Eat More Chickpeas” — a play on Chick-Fil-A’s well-known “Eat More Chickin” tagline — also were posted in bus shelters around Greenville Memorial Hospital, as well as on billboards in Augusta, Ga.; atop gas pumps in Charlotte; and on bus benches in Jacksonville.

While Chick-fil-A is not the only U.S. fast-food chain with an institutional presence, Neabore calls it “one of the more common.”

Chick-fil-A did not return a message seeking comment.

Earlier this year, the Atlanta-based chain dropped coleslaw from its menu and introduced a kale-broccolini salad developed in collaboration with chef Ford Fry, who recently toyed with the notion of opening a restaurant in Charleston. An 8-ounce portion of the new side item, priced at $3.79, contains 170 calories.

“We have also heard (our customers) are looking for new tastes and healthier ways to eat in our restaurants,” a statement from Chick-fil-A explained when it rolled out the salad, two years after adding grilled chicken to its menu.

Neabore feels the concerns are justified: He points out that a kale salad can’t undo the documented harms of a fried chicken sandwich. (At Chick-Fil-A, the spicy chicken deluxe sandwich weighs in at 570 calories.) While he’s sympathetic to comfort food claims sometimes voiced by the anxious relatives of patients, he argues hospital visitors shouldn’t contribute to their family’s health woes by neglecting wellness at mealtime.

“What if they have a heart attack after eating a sandwich with fried chicken and bacon and cheese? Then how are they going to feel?” Neabore asks. “We want all Americans to improve their health.”

Reach Hanna Raskin at 843-937-5560.