Assessing information on public health law best practices for obesity prevention and control.


55 In 2008, Representative John Read of Mississippi recently co-sponsored state legislation that would ban restaurants from serving obese customers.1 He later admitted that the bill was a publicity stunt, meant to “shed a little light on the number one problem in Mississippi.”2 Although controversial, Read’s bill exemplifies both the current perception of obesity as a national public health problem and the general sentiment underlying the types of interventions that are being considered to address this issue. The proposed legislation also demonstrates how policymakers can use or, in this case misuse, information about obesity to generate significant discussion on an issue along with ill-conceived legal interventions. Information sharing and the methods used to share best practices are components of the fourth core element of public health legal preparedness. The way public health practitioners, health care providers, attorneys, and legislators share information or have access to information is critical for ensuring that laws and legal authority support best practices that address the complex public health issue of obesity. Few people, especially health care and public health professionals, will disagree about the negative health consequences and substantial health care costs associated with obesity.3 Nonetheless, because obesity is often perceived as a failure of individual-control overeating and exercise habits, existing health policy tends to focus on individual behavior modification rather than a population health issue. As the companion public health framework paper demonstrates, body weight results from complex, multifaceted causal factors that involve far more than individual genes and behavior. The built environment (i.e., sidewalks, parks, and transportation), social determinants of health, a family’s economic status, and home environment also affect body weight. For example, the Surgeon General has found that behavior and environment contribute to obesity and emphasizes that policy should address both of these areas.4 Various laws and legal authorities directly and indirectly regulate many (if not most) of the factors influencing obesity rates, such as food production, distribution, eating, and exercise. Therefore, it is important for public health and health care practitioners to share information with elected officials and other policymakers to develop sound public policy to reduce the incidence and prevalence of obesity. Legislators and practitioners seeking to improve policies and programs related to obesity prevention and control must have ready access to evidence-based information to support laws and implement programs that can have a long-term impact in reducing obesity as a chronic disease.

DOI: 10.1111/j.1748-720X.2009.00392.x

Cite this paper

@article{Jacobson2009AssessingIO, title={Assessing information on public health law best practices for obesity prevention and control.}, author={Peter Jacobson and Susan C Kim and Susan Tortolero}, journal={The Journal of law, medicine & ethics : a journal of the American Society of Law, Medicine & Ethics}, year={2009}, volume={37 Suppl 1}, pages={55-61} }