A coalition of health advocates is asking Olympic winners not to accept lucrative sponsorships from McDonald’s Corp. Reuters

McDonald’s may be the “official restaurant” in Sochi, but not everyone thinks the Golden Arches mixes with gold medals.

A coalition of public-health advocates is calling on Olympic medalists to resist the temptation to sign lucrative endorsement deals with McDonald’s Corporation (NYSE:MCD) should the hamburger giant come calling. In an open letter Wednesday, Corporate Accountability International (CAI) -- along with the Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity and the Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood -- asked medalists to make a pledge not to take money from a company that “drives the worldwide epidemic of diet-related disease.”

“By aligning itself with athletes who represent the epitome of health, the fast-food corporation deflects public health criticism. Sponsoring the Olympics and high-profile athletes enables McDonald’s to mislead people worldwide into thinking that its brand is healthy.”

The letter is part of CAI’s Value [the] Meal Campaign, an initiative to call attention to the fast-food industry’s role in the obesity epidemic and the myriad health problems that accompany it. The effort reflects a growing consensus among nutrition and health advocates that the public’s perception of health-related issues is tainted by the marketing manpower behind companies that trade in empty calories.

McDonald’s began its relationship with the Olympics in 1968 when it airlifted hamburgers to American athletes competing in Grenoble, France. It’s been an official sponsor since 1976. For 10 consecutive games, including the winter games in Sochi, the company has bought the right to be dubbed “official restaurant” of the Olympics.

Hanna Saltzman, campaign organizer for Value [the] Meal, said in an email that this year’s crop of athletes can do their part to send a more health-oriented message, letting the next generation of Olympic hopefuls know that a path to the games is not paved with Happy Meals. “We believe Olympians have an opportunity to help curb, not drive, our nation’s epidemic of diet-related disease by standing up to misleading junk food marketing and saying ‘no’ to any deals with McDonald’s,” she said.

In 2012, McDonald’s announced that it would continue to be a top worldwide partner of the Olympics through 2020. The XXII Olympic Winter Games continues through Feb. 23. Read CAI’s full letter here.

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