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Raising public health awareness through food industry litigation

Richard A. Daynard, JD, PhD, School of Law, Northeastern University, 400 Huntington Avenue, Boston, MA 02115, (617) 373-2026, r.daynard@neu.edu

Widespread public awareness of the obesity epidemic and its possible causes is a precondition for politically difficult policy changes needed to deal with it. The prospect of litigation against the food companies played an important role in generating this awareness. Mere rumors of impending litigation in spring 2002 served as “news pegs” for numerous stories about the previously unnoticed obesity epidemic. The actual filing soon afterwards of two cases against McDonald’s produced more stories, most unfavorable to the litigation but also unfavorable to fast foods.

A litigation strategy selected specifically for public health goals could be expected to receive a warmer reception, and to make a substantial contribution to raising public consciousness about obesity issues. Important public health policy messages would be conveyed by the mere filing of suits against soft drink manufacturers for unfairly targeting children in schools with high calorie density and addictive sodas, of suits against food marketers who unfairly and deceptively pitch high calorie density products on children’s television, or of suits alleging that manufacturers misrepresented the caloric content of “low fat” and other foods to diet-conscious consumers. Favorable developments in these cases would provide additional opportunities for public education on the public health issues at stake.

Learning Objectives:

Keywords: Obesity, Policy/Policy Development

Related Web page: www.phaionline.org

Presenting author's disclosure statement:
I do not have any significant financial interest/arrangement or affiliation with any organization/institution whose products or services are being discussed in this session.

Controlling What We Eat: 21st Century Harvests of Shame

The 132nd Annual Meeting (November 6-10, 2004) of APHA