Health and life insurance companies are supposed to be concerned about keeping people healthy and lowering healthcare costs.

Why, then, are they major investors in the fast food industry—to the tune of nearly $2 billion?

Researchers at Cambridge Health Alliance and Harvard Medical School found that major U.S., Canadian and European-based insurance firms hold at least $1.88 billion of investments in fast food companies.

Prudential Financial, Northwestern Mutual, Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company and ING are among the largest investors, with holdings in companies like McDonald’s, Burger King, Jack in the Box and Yum! Brands (Pizza Hut, KFC and Taco Bell).

“Our data illustrate the extent to which the insurance industry seeks to turn a profit above all else,” says J. Wesley Boyd, MD, PhD, the study’s senior author and an assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. “Safeguarding people’s health and well-being take a backseat to making money.

“Our research highlights the tension between profit maximization and the public good faced by countries in expanding the role of private health insurers,” Dr. Boyd adds. “If insurers are to play a greater part in the healthcare delivery system, they ought to be held to a higher standard of corporate responsibility.”

For Your Organic Bookshelf: Food Fight: The Inside Story of the Food Industry, America’s Obesity Crisis and What We Can Do About It