Health Insurers Hedge Bets With Fast Food Stock

Your insurance company may have more to do with fast food than you think.

ByABC News
April 16, 2010, 8:14 AM

April 16, 2010— -- Companies providing life and health insurance owned $1.9 billion worth of stock in the fast-food industry as of June 11, 2009, researchers reported online in the American Journal of Public Health.

The investments were in the five largest fast-food corporations -- Jack in the Box, McDonald's, Burger King, Yum! Brands (KFC, Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, and others), and Wendy's/Arby's, according to J. Wesley Boyd of Harvard Medical School and Cambridge Health Alliance in Massachusetts and colleagues.

"The insurance industry, ostensibly, appears to be concerned about people's health and well-being," Boyd said.

But, he said, "If the insurance industry is willing to invest in products known to be harmful and/or kill people then, prima facie, this is not an industry that actually cares about health and well-being."

Although Boyd acknowledged that fast food can be consumed responsibly, he said the aggregate evidence points toward a negative effect on public health.

"We argue that insurers ought to be held to a higher standard of corporate responsibility," he and his co-authors wrote in their paper.

All of the study authors are members -- and two are co-founders -- of Physicians for a National Health Program, a nonprofit organization advocating for universal, single-payer national health insurance.

"PNHP opposes for-profit control, and especially corporate control, of the health system and favors democratic control, public administration, and single-payer financing," the organization's mission statement reads.

Boyd said that the passage of healthcare reform makes the issue of owning stock in fast-food companies especially important.

"The health insurance industry is going to have a much bigger stake in providing healthcare, and what we're doing in our paper is reminding people that [the industry's] primary interests are in earning money and generating profit, not in insuring people's health," he said.

Pauline Rosenau, a professor of management, policy, and community health at the University of Texas School of Public Health, said the investment strategy of these insurance companies is not ethical.