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Planned McDonalds divides health-conscious Loma Linda

Without a single liquor store, and smoke-free by law for nearly three decades, the tiny hillside town of Loma Linda brims with pride about its devotion to health and spiritual well-being.

So news that the first McDonald's was coming to town, with its special-sauce-slathered Big Macs and 500-calorie sheaves of large fries, has triggered enough political reflux to put City Hall on the defensive.

A noisy group of doctors at the city's landmark Loma Linda University Medical Center definitely isn't lovin' it. Already, there are whispers of election day payback and crafting a ballot measure to choke off a proliferation of fast-food joints.

"McDonald's does not fit the Loma Linda brand of health and wellness," said Dr. Wayne Dysinger, head of preventive medicine at the medical school. "Compare it to smoking laws: There's no question that smoking is harmful to people's health. Exposing people to fast food also is harmful to their health."

That healthful lifestyle is a core tenet of the Seventh-day Adventist faith, which is woven through the San Bernardino County town of 21,000, from the Adventist-run Loma Linda University Medical Center to a City Council governed exclusively by church members. 

Along with being vegetarian, most Adventists shun tobacco, alcohol and fancy dress. They are quick to brag about being home to the healthiest, and longest-living, folks in the nation. National Geographic in 2005 identified Loma Linda as one of the world's four "blue zones" — towns with greatest number of people living healthy lives into their 90s and past 100. The others were Okinawa, Japan; Sardinia, Italy; and Nicoya, Costa Rica. "It's a great point of pride that their commitment to health is paying off," Dysinger said.

Despite the pushback, McDonald's officials have shown no sign of relenting. The new restaurant, company representatives said, will give the city a "contemporary dining experience and help fuel economic growth."

John Lueken, a regional director for McDonald's in Southern California, defended the fast-food chain's healthful menu options. "We have been working hard over the past several years to ensure we have options on our menu to meet a variety of dietary needs," Lueken said in a statement. "For example, our line of premium salads can be ordered without meat. We also have other offerings, including apple slices, oatmeal and fruit and yogurt parfaits as well as a variety of portion sizes.''

That argument drew a scoff from Dr. Sylvie Wellhausen, a professor at the university's school of preventive medicine and a member of the Healthy Loma Linda Coalition.

"Trying to say there's a healthy menu at McDonald's," Wellhausen said, "is like putting 5 milligrams of Vitamin C in a cigarette."

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-- Phil Willon

 
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