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Like most businesses, health and life insurance companies are out to make a buck, and one way they augment their income is by investing in other industries.
But a new study has found that $1.88 billion from this industry is backing the top five publicly traded fast food chains. Excessive consumption of this sort of food has been repeatedly linked to a host of health problems, including obesity and diabetes.
"Life and health insurance firms profess to support health and wellness, but their choice of financial investments has raised doubts," wrote Arun Mohan and his coauthors, all at the Department of Medicine at Cambridge Health Alliance and Harvard Medical School, in an article published online April 15 in the American Journal of Public Health. The largest burger backer was Northwestern Mutual, which had invested $422.2 million in publicly traded fast food corporations, including $318.1 million in McDonald's, according to Mohan's research.
It's already common knowledge that the insurance industry has made even bigger investments in tobacco (handing over almost $4.5 billion, according to a 2009 study), but evidence is mounting that obesity and other dietary diseases are becoming as much of a burden on health—both individual and national—than smoking.
People who live near fast food restaurants are more likely to have a stroke than residents living farther away, according to another 2009 study. And high-fat foods have been shown to be rather addictive, at least in animal models.