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Insurers Respond continued...

That's not how the companies see it.

Northwestern Mutual spokeswoman Jean Towell says Boyd and colleagues overestimated the companies' fast-food holdings. (Boyd defends the numbers.) Towell says Northwestern's fast-food stock accounted for less than one-fifth of 1% of the company's $136 billion investment portfolio in 2008 -- and much less in 2009.

"Northwestern Mutual places a high priority on the health of our workforce as well as on the health of our policy holders," Towell tells WebMD. "Health and wellness is a priority."

However, Towell agrees with Boyd that the point of Northwestern's investments is to "generate high-quality returns" and "to make long-term value to our policy holders."

Massachusetts Mutual spokesman Mark Cybulski also takes issue with the figures and tells WebMD that at the end of 2009, the company held only $1.4 million in fast-food related stock -- less than one hundredth of a percent of the company's highly diversified total investments of $86.6 billion.

In an email to WebMD, Cybulski says Mass Mutual portfolio managers "have a fiduciary obligation to evaluate many factors" when buying stock, "including social, environmental, and corporate governance policies."

MetLife spokesman John Calagna notes that his firm's investment in fast food is the smallest on the list and suggests that $2.2 million is "minuscule" compared to the firm's $340 billion investment portfolio.

MetLife's investment in fast food "is far outweighed by the billions we invest in the 'health and wellness' sector, including farms, agricultural markets, and solar energy companies, just to name a few examples," Calagna tells WebMD via email.

Prudential Financial spokeswoman Theresa Miller notes that many of her firm's investments are made through passive index funds and are not specifically managed by Prudential.

"Prudential has a long track record of contributing to the good of the community through its business practices and through the many programs and services it supports," Miller tells WebMD via email.

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