Reading Kelly’s post yesterday about solutions to the obesity epidemic, reminded me of a paper I wrote five years ago for a legal course I took in college, “Obesity Litigation: Finding Blame, Not Solutions.”
The paper focuses on the rise in civil lawsuits against “Big Food”, similar to the lawsuits against “Big Tobacco”. At the time of my paper, congress was attempting to pass a law prohibiting citizens from suing food establishments, citing them as the cause for their obesity. Twelve states at the time had already adopted such a law.
Anyway, as you can tell from the title, in lieu of wasting tax-payer money writing laws to prohibit the “blame game”, perhaps our government should be finding solutions. Here’s the last part of the paper that I thought was a bit thought-provoking, and answered Kelly’s question of “What is one of your solutions to this growing issue?”:
While all of this obesity litigation does bring focus to the obvious obesity epidemic, it fails to explore all possible sources leading to America’s inability to maintain a healthy weight. The weight-maintenance plan recommend by most nutritionists and dieticians declares that “calories in” should equal “calories out.” Obesity lawsuits simply focus on the calories in and ignore the one thing that might actually help Americans keep off the pounds: physical activity.
Former Food and Drug Administration Commissioner, Dr. Mark McClellan has observed, “actual levels of caloric intake among the young haven’t appreciably changed over the last twenty years.” (Berman). As seen earlier, one of the most major causes of obesity is the decline of physical activity. To maintain a healthy life style, the surgeon general recommends adolescents and adults to engage in 30 minutes of moderate activity 5 times per week, or 20 minutes of vigorous activity 3 times per week. In 2001, 31.2% of high school students did not engage in either recommended amount of physical activity (“Statistical”) while 58% of adults admitted to not engaging in any vigorous physical activity for more than ten minutes per week (U.S. CDC, “Summary”). This decline of physical activity in America is the subject of many articles in health-related journals. Both the American Journal of Preventative Medicine and the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition have recommended focusing on increasing exercise rather than decreasing food intake (Berman).
Congress and State Legislatures should heed this advice and pass legislation to put physical activity back into the lives of Americans. There are many possible solutions. State legislators could require multiple physical education classes for all elementary and high school students throughout the week. Local governments can work with urban planners to develop more pedestrian friendly neighborhoods. With regards to the food industry, in lieu of spending time and money focusing on Big Food Obesity Litigation, the government could raise taxes on junk food. To supplement higher prices for unhealthier foods, governments could regulate and lower the price of healthy foods, such as lean meats, fruits, and vegetables. Schools could change their cafeteria offerings from hamburgers and pizza to more healthful fare. The monies required to implement such programs could be recovered from the $78.5 billion lost annually to obesity (U.S. CDC, “Overweight”).
Ultimately, all Americans would benefit from the decline of obesity in America, in the changes of their waistlines, a fattening of their wallets, and improvement to their overall health.
Just some food for thought. Obviously this has been something on my mind for five years.
And just so that this post isn’t totally devoid of something to look at:
Me walking down the aisle at Amy’s wedding last month!