Thursday, April 15, 2010

Health insurance companies sponsor obesity and illness

A recent article in CBS news reporter John Hartge highlights the ridiculous state and short sightedness of our modern health system. Reporting on a study in the American Journal of Public Health by Dr. Wesley Boyd from the Harvard Medical School health insurance firms invest nearly $2 billion in companies that sell fast foods linked to obesity and cardiovascular disease. The irony is that they have to make large payouts for sick, overweight and obese people.

The study found that Northwestern Mutual owns $422.2 million in fast-food stock, with $318.1 million invested in McDonald's. Massachusetts Mutual owns $366.5 million of fast-food stock, including $267.2 in McDonald's. ING, an investment firm that also has life and disability insurance, has total fast-food holdings of $406.1 million, including $12.3 million in Jack in the Box, $311 million in McDonald's, and $82.1 million in Yum! Brands, which owns Pizza Hut, KFC and Taco Bell. New Jersey-based Prudential Financial Inc. sells life insurance and long-term disability coverage. With total fast-food holdings of $355.5 million, Prudential Financial owns $197.2 of stock in McDonald's and also has significant stakes in Burger King, Jack-in-the-Box and Yum! Brands.

While this is US information I would suggest it is the same in Australia. It also raises many bigger questions about where all our money is invested. Perhaps we are all contributing to the problem if our investment portfolios and superannuation is feeding the fast food industry.

Given that obesity has now overtaken tobacco smoke as the single biggest preventable cause of death, perhaps it is time we also treated the processed food industry the same way as the tobacco industry instead of letting them have free reign.

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