America is in bad shape, and we're only getting fatter.
More than a third of adult Americans are obese, according to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention. Kids are following in the footsteps of their parents—rates of obesity have doubled among children and quadrupled in adolescents over the past 30 years, and more than a third of children and adolescents were overweight or obese in 2012. In 2008, the estimated annual medical cost of obesity in the US was $147 billion—$1,429 higher per person than for those of normal weight.
Given all that, you might think naming a children's hospital after a doughnut manufacturer is a bad idea, but then you wouldn't be the University of North Carolina's NC Children's Specialty Clinic, now known as the Krispy Kreme Challenge Children's Specialty Clinic.
Predictably, people, and doctors in particular, aren't happy about the name, which sounds like the hospital you'd go to if you lived in Candy Land.
"Shame on my colleagues for not finding a way to accept funds without providing free advertisement for junk food," Barry Popkin, MD, a professor of nutrition and economics at UNC, told MedPage Today. "What is interesting about this is if we named this the Winston-Salem [cigarette] clinic, it would outrage America, and maybe even the same for the Coca-Cola Clinic, but Krispy Kremes are equally horrible for our health—they are high-sugar, high-fat, refined carbohydrate junk food primed to add to the child obesity problem plaguing North Carolina."
The Krispy Kreme Challenge is an annual charity race at NC State in Raleigh organized by NC State undergrads in which runners run two and a half miles, eat a dozen Krispy Kreme doughnuts, and run another two and a half miles back to the start. The event, which dubs itself as "A unique challenge of both athletic and gastrointestinal skill," has the mantra, "2,400 calories, 12 doughnuts, 5 miles, 1 hour."
According to the CDC, the average male over 20-years-old in the United States is five-foot-nine and weighs 195 pounds, while the average woman stands five feet and four inches tall and weighs 166 pounds. Those measurements alone would probably convince most that eating a dozen donuts clocking in at 2,400 calories for the sake of raising money for children's healthcare isn't sending a crystal-clear message. But if you consider that the event pairs binge eating with exercising, and that a 35-year-old man and 35-year-old woman of average height and weight running five miles over the course of one hour burn 820 calories and 756 calories respectively, it gets even hazier.
The Krispy Kreme Challenge has raised $1 million for UNC Children's since its inception in 2006, and the event has committed to raising another $1 million by 2020 for the hospital to use as it sees fit. That additional million got the Krispy Kreme Challenge naming rights to UNC Children's, which, when it comes to these types of thing, is very cheap.
Last year, the University of Minnesota's Children's Hospital changed its name to the "University of Minnesota Masonic Children's Hospital" after a $25 million gift from the Minnesota Masonic Charities, which have given a collective $125 million over the last 60 years. The hospital changed its name after another donor, Caroline Amplatz, fulfilled her $50 million naming-rights gift made in 2009 ahead of schedule and allowed Minnesota to give naming rights to another donor, netting the hospital $75 million.
Krispy Kreme itself isn't paying anything, either. Though the doughnut company is listed as a sponsor of the event and now gets its name attached to the hospital, Krispy Kreme doesn't even give away doughnuts at the Krispy Kreme Challenge. (Krispy Kreme got listed as a sponsor of the Krispy Kreme Challenge in exchange for letting the event use its name.) For Krispy Kreme, the whole situation amounts to, essentially, a lot of free advertising.
Other medical institutions accept money from companies that sell unhealthy food products, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, which accepted money from Coca-Cola until this year. But needless to say, there's an ongoing issue in research that arises when scientific research is funded by companies that might have economic interests in published studies. Some argue that taking money from a corporation to fund research can skew results. Yale accepted $250,000 from PepsiCo under the stipulation that the money could only be used on anti-obesity research, and Nestlé's research center funded Nature magazine's "Obesity" issue last year.
For now, it looks like the Krispy Kreme Challenge Children's Specialty Clinic is going to continue facing a whole lot of backlash. Maybe they'll see that, like a doughnut, there's a hole in the argument of a hospital naming itself after a company that sells food that's bad for your health.