Obesity and the law

A judge threw out a case against a popular fast food chain this week as plaintiffs tried to sue on the basis that the restaurant was responsible for the obesity of its patrons. The judge said it’s not the restaurant’s fault when people walk into a McDonald’s, put down their money and over-indulge on super-sized Big Macs and french fries.

Common sense prevailed but for how long? It’s a good bet the wave of litigation against the tobacco companies began this way.

In the nation’s growing reliance on trial lawyer justice, the fast food industry has come under fire from those looking to cast the problem of personal obesity on a specific industry that rakes in billions in profits selling greasy hamburgers. This “follow the money” approach worked with the law suits against Big Tobacco. Crusading lawyers were undeterred when judges tossed out the first cases seeking millions in damages from the tobacco industry on behalf of dead or dying smokers. The cases were thrown out because Americans knew cigarettes were dangerous and each pack carried large warning labels. Litigation persisted until juries became convinced that personal responsibility played no role in tobacco deaths. Tobacco litigation then became a billion dollar industry. Yet, tobacco remains a legal product.

Fast food is the new frontier of corporate litigation designed to redistribute wealth made by giant fast food companies such as McDonald’s, Burger King and Wendy’s. In one case, attorneys cited a 13-year-old boy who claimed to have eaten McDonald’s food three or four times a week. He is now 5-foot-4 and 278 pounds, according to the Associated Press. McDonald’s is not to blame here. If this weight gain cannot be attributed to an existing medical condition, then the parents should be investigated for child abuse.

U.S. District Judge Robert Sweet cast the lawsuit aside saying the health risks associated with eating too much fast food is common knowledge. “It is not the place of the law to protect them from their own excesses,” Sweet said in his ruling. “Nobody is forced to eat at McDonald’s.”

America does have a growing problem of obese kids and adults. This, however, won’t be solved through litigation. Most people are fat because they live sedentary lifestyles with little exercise or physical labor. The instant gratification of fast food takes advantage of this growing laziness. It’s ironic that meals prepared at home are much healthier and cheaper over the long run ie: a Quarter Pounder costs more than $3 while a quarter pound of beef costs less than $1 at the grocery store.

So the fast food industry is off the hook… for the time being. We’re sure other lawsuits are eminent and it’s a shame that the industry will probably have to waste money and resources defending such cases rather than improving food quality and voluntarily lowering the fat content.

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