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Life and Health Insurance Companies are Fattening Up

Posted Apr 26 2010 12:00am

Life and health insurance companies own stock in the fast food industry.

Life and health insurance companies have a health problem.  They are “fattening up.”  The culprit?  The fast food industry.  But, the “girth” of these companies isn’t necessarily coming from consuming fast food, rather, the growth is a result of investing in them.  A study conducted by Harvard researchers, and published in the American Journal of Public Health , found that 11 prominent life and health insurance companies own $1.88 billion dollars worth of stocks in 5 popular fast food chains (McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s/Arby’s Group, Jack in the Box, and Yum! Brands -owner of Pizza Hut, KFC, Taco Bell, and others).

A conflict of interest?  Some say very much so, especially in light of the fact that our nation is faced with an obesity epidemic – with childhood obesity being of particular concern.  Fast food meals, with their high caloric and fat content, play a role in this epidemic and in the development of its associated diseases, such as diabetes and heart disease.  Children are highly targeted by fast food industry marketing tactics.  And, there are a greater number of fast food restaurants located in minority and lower-income neighborhoods.

What should be done about this “disconnect” between the life and health insurance companies mission to promote health and their financial investments in an industry that is linked to the development of chronic disease?  The researchers have a few suggestions. First, They propose that the life and health insurance companies should remove their funds from the fast food chains, as well as any other investments in industries whose products are detrimental to the health of the general public.  Second, the authors of the study indicate that the life and health insurance companies should use their holdings as leverage to persuade the fast food industry to make changes that promote the health of their consumers (e.g., portion control, reduce caloric and fat content, etc.,).

In order for our nation to combat the current obesity epidemic, all sectors of society need to assume responsibility and alter their practices to ones that promote health rather than contribute to the development of disease.

What do you think the life and health insurance companies should do with their investments?  Share your opinion, we want to know!

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