Innovative Legal Approaches to Address Obesity

This legal analysis discusses how the law can help fight obesity. The authors lay out how to use the law to directly address factors that contribute to obesity and to create solutions that strengthen existing policies and regulations used to curb obesity.

The authors detail several legal strategies, including:

  • Limiting food marketing directed at children;
  • Compelling industry to provide better information to consumers;
  • Increasing the information provided by the government to consumers;
  • Regulating consumer and industry conduct via taxation, ingredient limitation, product placement, and zoning laws;
  • Applying tort litigation and nuisance laws to obesity; and
  • Developing innovative regulations based on health outcomes.

Finally, the analysis discusses the policy of preemption, where federal laws override local and state-level laws. The authors argue that preemption can impede public health by overriding strong local public health laws in favor of weak federal standards. Putting savings clauses in state and federal law can prevent these laws from preempting stronger lower-level public health laws.

This article is part of a special issue on obesity in the March 2009 edition of The Milbank Quarterly available free of charge throughout 2009 at Wiley-Blackwell.

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