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The New York Times this morning reports that “a well-honed army of familiar lawyers who waged war against the tobacco companies for decades and won mega-million-dollar settlements is preparing a new wave of food fights, and no one is laughing.”

The fact that the US House of Representatives passed a bill preventing people from suing restaurants – legislation not likely to pass the Senate this year, according to experts – and that some 19 states have either passed or considered similar laws, doesn’t seem to be slowing down the litigators.

The NYT writes, “Lawyers on both sides see broad potential for litigation, including challenges to the ways children are wooed toward sugar and fatty foods, deceptive labeling and misleading advertisements. While lawsuits in tobacco cases were filed before smoking was seen as a public health crisis, awareness about obesity is already high. The federal government calls obesity an epidemic and released statistics last month showing that it was close to overtaking smoking as the nation's No. 1 cause of death.”

The new cases are expected to challenge companies “under consumer protection laws, accusing them of, say, advertising a product as low-fat without also mentioning that it is high in sugar and calories, or promising that a revamped product is ‘lower’ in fat even though it is still not low-fat.”
KC's View:
Companies may want to deny it, but the evidence would seem to suggest that plenty of organizations are making changes in their products because of the obesity crisis. It’d be nice to think that this is purely altruistic, but we suspect that the threat of lawsuits might be motivating them a bit.

McDonald’s, for example, announced just yesterday that it will begin offering bunless versions of its burgers and chicken sandwiches. They will come on a bed of lettuce in a small salad bowl, with a knife and fork. And we can’t imagine that this decision – similar to one made by companies like Wendy’s – was made just because it felt right.

Whether or not you agree with the right of lawyers and plaintiffs to challenge companies on the grounds that they bear some responsibility for the nation’s fat problems, you have to take this seriously.

Some suit is going to succeed. Some fat plaintiff is going to make enough money to join a health club and hire a personal trainer. And some lawyer is going to make enough money to buy a Caribbean island.

And so it goes.