Are Health Insurers investing in products that damage health?


Does this look like the kind of thing a health insurance company should invest in? Image from Flickr.

How’s this for a reversal? Life and health insurance firms have invested $1.88 billion in just the top five fast food chains in America. The American Journal of Public Health published a study on April 15 revealing the investment patterns of large insurers. Fast food isn’t the only potentially damaging investment of life and health insurers; in 2009, the New England Journal of Medicine revealed that more than $4.5 billion of health and life insurance money had been invested in tobacco stocks. That is quite the payday loan for companies that seem to have competing interests.

The health insurance risk of fast food

While fast food in and of itself is not necessarily dangerous to one’s health, the fact health insurers, life insurers and other companies concerned with health are investing in potentially dangerous products is disturbing. The researchers in the American Journal of Public Health does point out that “fast food can be consumed responsibly.” However, most evidence points out that fast food, as currently sold and marketed, is a danger to public health. High-fat foods like the ones sold at fast food restaurants have been shown to be addictive. High fast food consumption has also been shown to be correlated with high obesity. Obesity is now the leading cause of preventable death and disease in the United States.

Health insurance investment in fast food

Most health insurers, as they are currently structured, have profit as their major concern. 11 health insurance companies that own life, disability, or health insurance have about $1.88 billion invested in fast food companies such as McDonald’s, KFC, Taco Bell, and Burger King – easy payday loans in stock value for those companies. These insurers include Massachusetts Mutual, Northwestern Mutual, and Prudential. Insurance companies dispute the total investment numbers. However, insurance companies also admit that their investments may be through subsidiaries or large investment groups.

Health insurance investment in tobacco

At a much larger scale then the reported health insurance investment in fast food is their investment in tobacco companies. A New England Journal of Medicine report found about $4.5 billion of medical, health, life, and disability insurance money invested in tobacco companies. The insurance companies, again, flatly deny this finding. Sun Life, when questioned about their holdings, pointed out that tobacco-related businesses “can be a part of a broader conglomerate involving other aspects such as food production.” Which, given the recent finding about fast food companies, is especially concerning.


Scientific American