Paul Holmes

Clinic should focus on teaching healthy diet habits, not slamming its on-site McDonald's

Clinic should focus on teaching healthy diet habits, not slamming its on-site McDonald's

There's a school of public relations thought that says McDonald's should cut its losses and close its restaurant in the lobby of the Cleveland Clinic that has become the subject of so much controversy since it was attacked by the clinic's new head, Toby Cosgrove.

Cosgrove, a heart surgeon, doesn't believe burgers and fries should be sold at a facility where he and his colleagues operate on patients whose unhealthy diets have created serious health problems. "We have to set an example with the food we serve our patients and employees," Cosgrove told The Washington Post recently.

Another fast-food chain, Pizza Hut, quickly tucked its tail between its legs and agreed to close its franchise at the clinic.

But McDonald's is fighting and, so far, appears to be winning. It has pointed to its history of service to the local community-a hallmark of McDonald's around the country-and it also has sought to rally residents around franchisee Turan Strange, one of the city's successful black entrepreneurs.

McDonald's main argument, however, centers on choice. For one thing, it says, its menu offers customers plenty of choices, including salads. For another, patients and visitors have several other choices, including Subway, Au Bon Pain sandwich shop, and the clinic's cafeteria. The bottom line is that nobody is forced to eat McDonald's, and people should not be denied the right to eat there if they so choose.

Meanwhile, the restaurant's customers, including many hospital workers, say they know the risks, but believe - along with most nutritionists - that there's nothing wrong with a cheeseburger every now and again as part of a healthy diet. Moreover, they say, McDonald's offers an affordable and tasty alternative to the cafeteria - which also serves plenty of fatty food.

Certainly the clinic's administration has the right not to renew McDonald's contract when it expires, but this attempt to break that contract and force the restaurant out smacks of cheap grandstanding, similar to the awful agit-prop of Super Size Me, the anti-McDonald's documentary that attempts to scapegoat the chain for the lack of individual responsibility that has led to America's obesity problem by setting up a fundamentally absurd and dishonest scenario (the filmmaker eats nothing but Mickey D's for a month) to cheap-shot its target.

But for now, the clinic would do better to direct its efforts toward educating people about sound nutrition. McDonald's, meanwhile, is right to stick to its guns. To capitulate would be to deny its customers the right to choose their own diets.

  • Paul Holmes has spent the past 17 years writing about the PR business for publications including PRWeek, Inside PR, and Reputation Management. He is currently president of The Holmes Group and editor of

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