Project Body Smart | It’s Time to Put an End to Junk Food Fundraising


It’s Time to Put an End to Junk Food Fundraising

Fundraising by selling illness isn’t in anyone’s best interest.


Have you ever bought a baked good in the name of Charity?

Last Thursday was Dairy Queen’s Miracle Treat Day – the day when $1 for every Blizzard sold goes to support the children’s hospitals who are part of the Children’s Miracle Network. When two days prior to this miracle day my local children’s hospital’s cafeteria hosted local Dairy Queen store managers to hand out Blizzards to encourage, permit and remind people to head to Dairy Queen two days later to buy another one, I pointed the practice out as backwards and irresponsible. Among the responses I received was this one: “Fundraising comes in all shapes and sizes! Ice cream is a treat, and that’s OK once in a while!” Honestly, were treats these days only “once in a while,” I’d readily agree, but that’s no longer the world we live in. Nowadays, treats and junk food fundraising are pretty much a constant, and days like Miracle Treat Day provide us with nearly nonstop permission to buy and eat it –  further normalizing junk food’s role as a regular and acceptable part of daily life.

Junk food fundraising really is everywhere. From the obvious Girl Scout cookies and Boys and Girls Club chocolate bars, to our kids’ ubiquitous weekly school pizza days, chocolate milk programs and bake sales, to the Unicef branded candy fundraising for schools in Africa, and even to road races like Susan G. Komen and KFC’s partnered “Buckets for the Cure” or the North Carolina Children’s Hospital’s Krispy Kreme Challenge, whose mantra is literally “2,400 calories, 12 doughnuts, 5 miles, 1 hour” – the fact is that junk food sells, and it attracts both participants and charities alike.

And while there’s no doubt the money is welcome and wonderful, as a society it may be time to start considering whether it’s worth its cost. Times have changed since that first Miracle Treat day back in 1984. Since then childhood obesity rates have nearly tripled, and diet and weight-related diseases together have become North America’s leading preventable causes of death. In those contexts, junk food fundraising strikes me as rather odd, doubly so when it’s supported and promoted by children’s hospitals.

The money’s not that great either, by the way. According to Dairy Queen, Miracle Treat Day has raised some $100 million for the children’s hospitals since 1984, which – when divvied up over the 170 miracle network hospitals and those 30 years – amounts to roughly $20,000 per hospital, per year. Another program sponsored by the Children’s Miracle Network, the Slices for Smiles program, which fundraises by means of selling discounted fast-food pizza, raises just $12,000 per hospital per year. Given the average small sized, city-based, children’s hospital’s annual operating budget is north of $200 million, the monies generated by these hospital endorsed junk food sales are truly just drops in the bucket.

And there are, of course, other means to fundraise. To give just a few suggestions, hospitals could establish weekend farmers’ markets in hospital parking lots where the hospitals would receive fees from vendors and perhaps a profit share; they could launch flowering bulb sales in the fall and fresh garden herb sales in the spring; and they could sell branded car emergency and first aid kits year round. They could also launch recycling drives, book fairs, garage sales and non-junk food sponsored races. This list no doubt goes on.

To be fair and clear, for most of us junk food really is one of life’s simplest pleasures. My kids enjoy a trip to Dairy Queen as much as any kids do, but at this juncture in societal health, the world needs to start actively working on providing fewer opportunities for junk food’s consumption – and in doing so, force people to make the conscious choice of going out of their way to get some, rather than leaving it to us to go out of our way to avoid it.

Fundraising by selling illness isn’t in anyone’s best interest, and children’s hospitals of all places should be leading this charge.

Yoni Freedhoff, MD, is an assistant professor of family medicine at the University of Ottawa, where he’s the founder and medical director of the Bariatric Medical Institute – dedicated to non-surgical weight management since 2004. Dr. Freedhoff sounds off daily on his award-winning blog, Weighty Matters, and you can follow him on Twitter @YoniFreedhoff. Dr. Freedhoff’s latest book, “The Diet Fix: Why Diets Fail and How to Make Yours Work,” is a national bestseller in Canada and is widely available across North America and online.


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