Three-Week Program Could Cut Employer Health Care Costs
WASHINGTON—The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) is asking McDonald’s—recently ousted as the world’s top fast-food chain—to trim health care costs by encouraging employees at its Chicago-area headquarters to go vegan for 21 days.
In a letter to McDonald’s CEO Jim Skinner, Neal Barnard, M.D., president of PCRM, offers the 21-Day Vegan Kickstart as a simple and sustainable way to improve employees’ health, and points out that fellow Illinois star Oprah Winfrey and her staff recently tried a vegan diet with good results. The Kickstart program has already been adopted by employees at GEICO and Whole Foods Market and is now offered in a book.
“The Kickstart program uses what is essentially a perfect diet, loaded with vegetables, fruits, and other healthy foods,” writes Dr. Barnard. “Our staff would … be delighted to work with your company to help develop vegan options for employees and also to create a veggie burger that McDonald’s could offer its thousands of customers worldwide as a healthier option to the fat-loaded, cholesterol-rich items on your menu.”
Last year, PCRM released a TV advertisement targeting McDonald’s high-fat food. The ad, which went viral on YouTube, showed an overweight corpse in a morgue clutching a hamburger.
Read Dr. Barnard's letter below. For an interview with Dr. Barnard, contact Vaishali Honawar at 202-527-7339 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
March 17, 2011
Mr. James Skinner
Chief Executive Officer
2111 McDonald's Dr.
Oak Brook, IL 60523
Dear Mr. Skinner:
News this week that McDonald’s is no longer the world’s leading fast-food chain may have left your company looking for ways to streamline operations. McDonald’s has also recently complained about high healthcare costs and has considered dropping healthcare for thousands of employees. As a physician and nutrition researcher, I want to propose a simple and sustainable way to bring down your company’s healthcare expenses: offer your employees the opportunity to make over their diets, as GEICO and Whole Foods Market have recently done, with the 21-Day Vegan Kickstart program.
This program could start at your Chicago-area headquarters. In Illinois, more than 63 percent of adults were classified as overweight or obese in 2009: more than the national average of 61 percent. Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in the state, and each year it kills more than 42,000 Illinois citizens. Largely as a result of obesity, the prevalence of diagnosed diabetes in the state rose from 5.4 percent in 1994 to 8 percent in 2009, and many more people have the disease but are not yet aware of it. Diabetes is a leading cause of blindness, amputations, and loss of kidney function, not to mention an enormous financial drain, estimated at $128 billion for the U.S. in 2010. This cost is a drag on companies, on state budgets, and on individual workers and taxpayers.
If current trends continue, the situation will get completely out of hand. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that one in three children born in 2000 will develop diabetes at some point in their lives. The personal and financial costs in future decades will be staggering—and corporations will shoulder a large part of that heavy burden.
These facts are not news to you, I’m sure. But I wanted to suggest a way to turn the corner. Our research team has been testing out healthier diets and ways for people to implement them. Funded by the National Institutes of Health, we showed that a simple, plant-based diet helps people lose weight, improve diabetes, and cut cholesterol.
In a recent study with the GEICO insurance company, we found that employees respond very well to this method. Simply by providing plant-based food options in the company cafeteria and giving employees basic information and support for following the diet, GEICO helped its employees lose weight and improve their health. Whole Foods Market has been offering at-risk employees plenty of guidance and support in adopting a plant-based diet.
We would like to see if something similar could help your employees and serve as a model for other businesses to follow. The potential benefits are healthier employees, reduced health care costs, and less absenteeism. We have encapsulated this program in something we call the “Kickstart.” It began as an online program, which has had more than 100,000 participants in the past year. The Kickstart program uses what is essentially a perfect diet, loaded with vegetables, fruits, and other healthy foods. But the program is very short—just three weeks. This time-frame is long enough to see results but short enough to make it approachable. It is now offered as a book, called The 21-Day Weight Loss Kickstart, which is currently featured on a PBS program called Kickstart Your Health.
Our staff would also be delighted to work with your company to help develop vegan options for employees and also to create a veggie burger that McDonald’s could offer its thousands of customers worldwide as a healthier alternative to the fat-loaded, high-cholesterol items on your menu.
As you may know, President Clinton recently adopted a low-fat vegan diet—that is, a plant-based diet—in order to improve his heart health. In the process, he lost 24 pounds and looked trim and healthy at his daughter’s wedding. Your fellow Illinois star Oprah Winfrey recently challenged her entire production staff to adopt the same diet with very good results.
We hope you will consider our offer, and look forward to hearing from you.
Neal D. Barnard, M.D.
Founded in 1985, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine is a nonprofit health organization that promotes preventive medicine, conducts clinical research, and encourages higher standards for ethics and effectiveness in research.