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So Long, Big Mac: Cleveland Clinic Ousts McDonald's From Cafeteria

The McDonald's inside the Cleveland Clinic in Cleveland, in 2004.
Tony Dejak
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

One of the most prestigious names in health care is taking a stand on food.

This week, Cleveland Clinic announced it would sever ties with McDonald's. As of Sept. 18, the McDonald's branch located in the Cleveland Clinic cafeteria will turn off its fryers and close its doors for good. Its lease will not be renewed.

The move is part of a wider effort by Cleveland Clinic leaders to promote a culture of wellness. Employees are offered free gym access and Weight Watchers memberships. And nudging out McDonald's is one of many steps the medical center has taken in the cafeteria to offer more healthful fare.

"Cleveland Clinic wants to help patients and visitors and our employees turn to healthier lifestyles and healthier choices," clinic spokeswoman Eileen Sheil tells The Salt.

And, burgers and french fries, well, they don't make the cut.

The move is not a huge surprise. As we've reported, Cleveland Clinic tried to terminate its lease contract with McDonald's several years back, but failed.

In the meantime, other facilities have had better success — what advocates for more healthful fare say is part of a trend.

"Cleveland Clinic is the seventh hospital since 2009" to cut ties with McDonald's, says Sriram Madhusoodanan of the advocacy group Corporate Accountability International.

He points to Vanderbilt Medical Center in Nashville, Tenn., Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis and Truman Medical Centers in Kansas City, Mo.

Now, McDonald's does offer more fresh food than it used to — everything from Cuties California Clementines in Happy Meals to its recent experiments with kale salads. And the company is scrambling to remake itself into, in the words of its CEO, a "progressive burger company."

But Madhusoodanan says many of its customers still go for the traditional menu.

"McDonald's most profitable items remain burgers, fries and soda," Madhusoodanan says. And that's a lot of sugar, salt and fat.

Some of those loyal customers are unhappy with the decision to shutter the Golden Arches at Cleveland Clinic — or elsewhere.

In Cleveland, some commenters on a local news site have complained that the loss of Mickey D's at the clinic amounts to the loss of the most affordable option. And another commenter wrote: "No one should be able to dictate lifestyle choices."

Cleveland Clinic's Sheil tells us that the medical center is aware of the need for good value. And, she says, as it considers replacements for McDonald's, the idea is to find a vendor that offers more healthful food and affordable prices.

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Allison Aubrey is a correspondent for NPR News, where her stories can be heard on Morning Edition and All Things Considered. She's also a contributor to the PBS NewsHour and is one of the hosts of NPR's Life Kit.