Nutrition scientists tell Smithsonian: “Say ‘no’ to McDonald’s junk food!”

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WASHINGTON - Over two dozen nutrition scientists and professors today joined the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) in criticizing the Smithsonian Institution’s decision to have McDonald’s provide the food service at the National Air and Space Museum. The group urged the Smithsonian to find a more appropriate food-service company or to require McDonald’s to offer more healthful foods.

     “A typical [McDonald’s] Value Meal (Big Mac, medium fries, medium Coke) delivers about 1,200 calories and three-quarters of a day’s quota of saturated fat,” the letter states. “That is exactly the type of diet that the federal government’s ‘Dietary Guidelines for Americans’ and ‘The Surgeon General’s Report on Nutrition and Health’ have recommended against.

     Surgeon General David Satcher recently issued a “call to action” on overweight and obesity, saying that those problems “may soon cause as much preventable disease and death as cigarette smoking.”

     According to a contract signed last year, McDonald’s Corp. will lease the cafeteria space in the National Air and Space Museum, the nation’s most popular museum. Three McDonald’s chains — McDonald’s, Boston Market, and Donatos Pizzeria — will provide food beginning sometime next summer. The Smithsonian has not set any guidelines concerning the nutritional quality of the foods that will be offered.

     Calling on the Smithsonian to “integrate its food services into its overall educational mission and help save lives,” the experts called for calorie information to be placed on menu boards, for Value Meals to include healthful beverages, for low-fat meatless burgers and more fresh fruit and vegetables to be offered, for pizzas to be offered with low-fat cheese, and for fried foods to be cooked in liquid vegetable oil, not artery-clogging hydrogenated shortening.

     Some of the scientists who criticized the McDonald’s deal include Walter Willett, Harvard School of Public Health; Susan B. Roberts, Tufts University; Stephen Havas, University of Maryland School of Medicine; Antonio M. Gotto, Dean, Weill Medical College of Cornell University; and Kelly D. Brownell, Yale University.

     Michael F. Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, “It is sad that the federally supported Smithsonian is making no effort whatsoever to encourage its millions of visitors to choose more-healthful diets. Most of the foods that the Air and Space Museum will provide will be the standard fast-food junk — soft drinks, pizzas, burgers, fries — that contribute to heart disease, obesity, and a raft of other health problems.”

     The scientists have condemned the de facto endorsement of McDonald’s fare. They say that if their suggestions are implemented, the Smithsonian could “not only educate and protect the health of visitors to Smithsonian facilities, but would also serve as a high-profile model that other institutions could follow.”

     The deal guarantees the Smithsonian Institution at least $16 million in income over the 10-year lease. The restaurant is likely to become the busiest McDonald’s location in the United States. The National Air and Space Museum receives 9 million visitors annually.

     This is only the latest corporate controversy for the Smithsonian. Previous deals with Fuji, sponsoring the panda exhibit at the National Zoo, General Motors, sponsoring a wing of the National Museum of American History, and sponsorship of an insect exhibit by Orkin exterminators have been criticized as well.