Doctors Post Billboard Urging Tampa General Hospital to Go Fast Food Free
Controversial Ad Featuring a Ventilator Was Initially Approved and Then Suppressed by Tampa’s Transit Authority
TAMPA, Fla.—A billboard that parodies the McDonald’s slogan targets Tampa General Hospital, referencing the McDonald’s restaurant on the first floor of the hospital. As reported by the Tampa Bay Times, the provocative billboard is on Adamo Drive and 22nd Street in Tampa. It will remain posted until Feb. 12. The illuminated billboard is 10 feet tall and 36 feet wide and it urges the hospital to go fast free. The billboard message is sponsored by the Physicians Committee—a nonprofit group of 17,000 doctors, including Yves Homsy, MD, of Tampa, and 1,079 other Florida physicians.
“I’m Not Lovin’ the Ventilator,” the billboard proclaims over a photo of a patient. “High-Fat Fast Food Can Contribute to Obesity, Putting Covid Patients at Risk for Intubation. Ask @TGHCares to go #FastFoodFree! MakeHospitalsHealthy.org.” Prior to posting the billboard, the Physicians Committee wrote directly to the hospital’s CEO, John Couris, and also to the chief of staff, Krishna Nallamshetty, MD. The hospital’s McDonald’s contract likely ends in 2023, so now is the time to plan for changes to the food environment.
The Physicians Committee also filed a complaint on Jan. 18 with Douglas A. Holt, MD, the Health Officer for Florida Department of Health in Hillsborough County. The complaint argues that the hospital should banish artery-clogging fast food, including fried chicken, and provide healthful, plant-based meals that address underlying conditions like diabetes that can make COVID-19 more severe.
“High-fat fast food like beef burgers and milkshakes can cause weight gain, and COVID-19 patients who are overweight or obese are more likely to require invasive mechanical ventilation,” says Susan Levin, MS, RD, of the Barnard Medical Center and the Physicians Committee. “It is urgent that hospitals, including Tampa General, provide plant-based meals that can help people prevent and even reverse obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, and other diet-related diseases that can put COVID-19 patients at risk for severe illness.”
Tampa’s transit agency, Hillsborough Area Regional Transit (HART), at first accepted and then refused to install five bus shelter ads that were scheduled to be posted close to Tampa General Hospital the week of Dec. 6, 2021.
After HART approved the ad in November 2021, the artwork was designed to specs, printed, and shipped to installers in Tampa. The ad parodied the McDonald’s slogan and referenced the fast-food restaurant inside Tampa General Hospital. On about Dec. 1, HART told the installers that it was rereviewing the ad and that posting was not allowed. The signed contract says the ads were to be posted the week of Dec. 6, but on Dec. 8 the installers confirmed that they would not post the ads because they lacked permission from HART.
A billboard company, Outfront Media, also refused to post in Tampa the doctors’ message as written.
However, another billboard company has agreed to post the hard-hitting message that mocks the McDonald’s slogan and warns that fast food consumption can lead to obesity, which in turn leads to negative outcomes for COVID-19 patients, including mechanical ventilation. The replacement billboard is on Adamo Drive and 22nd Street, and its installation was confirmed Jan. 18, 2022. The billboard encourages concerned citizens to send a Tweet to Tampa General Hospital @TGHCares.
“It’s outrageous that HART would suppress a health message that could affect outcomes for patients with COVID-19,” says Susan Levin, MS, RD, of the Barnard Medical Center and the Physicians Committee.
A commentary published in the American Journal of Medicine, “Shoring Up Vaccine Efficacy,” emphasizes that a 2021 case-control study of health care workers in six countries revealed that those following largely plant-based diets had 73% lower odds of developing moderate to severe COVID-19, compared with those following other diets.
As reported by the Washington Post, Physicians Committee monitors fast food in hospitals and publishes a list of hospitals that host fast food at www.MakeHospitalsHealthy.org. Several hospitals in Florida have closed McDonald’s restaurants including Broward Health Medical Center in Fort Lauderdale, Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami, and Memorial Regional Hospital in Hollywood.
Hospitals in nearby states that have closed McDonald’s restaurants include Grady Hospital in Atlanta, the Medical Center Navicent Health in Macon, Ga., Children’s Hospital of Georgia in Augusta, Ga., Ben Taub Hospital in Houston, and Kosair Children’s Hospital in Louisville, Ky., now called Norton Children’s Hospital. In recent years, about 14 hospitals have closed McDonald’s restaurants. According to www.MakeHospitalsHealthy.org, about seven hospitals in the U.S. still host a McDonald’s restaurant.
A study in Preventive Medicine Reports shows that fast food consumption—cheeseburgers, chicken, and milkshakes—is linked to risk of obesity in adolescents. A study published in the journal Circulation found that people who eat fast food once a week increase their risk of dying from heart disease by 20%. Two to three fast-food meals a week increase the risk of premature death by 50%. Four or more fast-food meals a week increase the risk of dying from heart disease by nearly 80%.
A study recently published in the in the American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine shows that during the COVID-19 pandemic, overweight hospital workers at Sibley Memorial Hospital in Washington, D.C., were able to lose weight, lower blood pressure, and otherwise improve their health by following a low-fat plant-based diet.
The American Medical Association has issued a policy urging health care facilities to provide healthful food, including plant-based meals, and meals that are low in saturated fat.
Patients and health care providers are often concerned that healthful foods are more expensive, but St. Joseph Health System in Sonoma County, Calif., reports, “Vegetarian entrées cost about 50% less than meat entrées.” The hospital projects saving $5,000 a year by serving more meat-free meals.
Jeanne Stuart McVey
Founded in 1985, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine is a nonprofit organization that promotes preventive medicine, conducts clinical research, and encourages higher standards for ethics and effectiveness in education and research.