Fast food can mean fast profit for health insurers

Should life and health insurers be investing in the stocks of fast-food companies?

Researchers at the Cambridge Health Alliance, which is associated with Harvard Medical School, say no, citing the downside of fast food — associations with obesity and other health problems, heavy marketing to kids and the chains’ environmental impact.

Insurers, however, have a responsibility to share- or policyholders to maximize returns, and that may include investments in companies that don’t share their health-promoting mission, they say, according to a story in the Wall Street Journal.

Sensing that potential disconnect, the Cambridge researchers set out to find out the value of major insurers’ investments in the five leading fast-food companies: Jack in the Box, McDonald’s, Burger King, Yum Brands and Wendy’s/Arby’s.

Based on shareholder data from the Icarus database, they calculated the insurers’ combined fast-food holdings totaled $1.88 billion as of last June.

Their findings, including a breakdown by company, are published today in the American Journal of Public Health. However, as with a similar analysis last year of tobacco stock holdings by insurers, companies disputed the numbers.

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