Obesity - The New Frontier of Public Health Law

Obesity - The New Frontier of Public Health Law - The n e w...

Info iconThis preview shows pages 1–2. Sign up to view the full content.

View Full Document Right Arrow Icon
n engl j med 354;24 www.nejm.org june 1 5, 2006 2601 health policy report The new england journal of medicine The law is now firmly established as a powerful instrument of public health. 1 Some of the most important public health victories in the United States in the past century — declining lead ex- posure, reduced rates of smoking, improvements in workplace and motor vehicle safety, and in- creased vaccination rates — are the result of new legislation, heightened regulatory enforcement, litigation, or a combination of the three. 2-4 With each victory, confidence mounts in the capacity of legal tools to be used in combating serious health threats. One of the newest targets of public health law is obesity. 5 The past few years have brought a flurry of legislative initiatives aimed at improv- ing nutrition and physical activity among children and adults, highly publicized personal-injury law- suits against food and beverage companies, 6,7 and new activities on the part of federal regu- lators. 8 Related initiatives in other countries and at the World Health Organization signal growing international interest. 9 This new frontier of public health law is wel- comed by many health activists, but it has also provoked criticism. A backlash from the food industry is already evident, and rights-oriented consumer groups have decried some measures because they impinge on civil liberties. 10 Tensions exist between these interventions and the free- doms of choice, speech, and contract. In this article, we review the rationale for regulatory action to combat obesity, examine legal issues raised by initiatives to date, and comment on the prospects for public health law in this area. time for legal action? The public health law approach posits that the law can be used to create conditions that allow people to lead healthier lives and that the govern- ment has both the power and the duty to regu- late private behavior in order to promote public health. 1 The constitutional source of this author- ity is the police power, which encompasses both directly coercive interventions and policies such as taxes and subsidies that shape behavior by altering the costs of certain choices. States also enjoy broad powers with respect to taxation of goods and services. Several factors have led to a reexamination of the historical view that food consumption and physical activity are inappropriate subjects for government regulation. Among the “triggers to action” that have catalyzed government interven- tion in other areas of private behavior, such as alcohol and tobacco use, are the development of a scientific base and social disapproval. 11 Both these triggers are now in play with regard to obesity. The accumulation of an evidence base is par- ticularly important. Emerging research results about the economic and human costs of obesity 12 have galvanized interest in greater governmental involvement by medicalizing the problem (witness the Medicare program’s decision to classify obe- sity as a disease 13 ) and by demonstrating the stake that each employer and taxpayer has in it.
Background image of page 1

Info iconThis preview has intentionally blurred sections. Sign up to view the full version.

View Full DocumentRight Arrow Icon
Image of page 2
This is the end of the preview. Sign up to access the rest of the document.

This note was uploaded on 08/24/2010 for the course PSYC 123 taught by Professor Kellybrownell during the Spring '08 term at Yale.

Page1 / 10

Obesity - The New Frontier of Public Health Law - The n e w...

This preview shows document pages 1 - 2. Sign up to view the full document.

View Full Document Right Arrow Icon
Ask a homework question - tutors are online