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This is the first paper in a two part series on the laws and legal authorities for obesity prevention and control, which resulted from the National Summit on Legal Preparedness for Obesity Prevention and Control in 2008. In this paper, the authors apply the “laws and legal authorities” component of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) legal framework on public health legal preparedness to demonstrate the essential role that law can play in the fight against obesity. Their analysis identified numerous laws and policies in the three vital domains of healthy lifestyles, healthy places, and healthy societies. For example, in terms of healthy lifestyles, governments can impact nutrition through: food subsidies, taxation, and bans; food marketing strategies; and nutritional labeling and education. With regard to healthy places, state and local governments can apply zoning laws and policy decisions to change the environment to encourage healthy eating and physical activity. Governments can promote healthy societies through laws and legal authorities that affect the ability to address obesity from a social perspective (such as antidiscrimination law, health care insurance and benefit design, school and day care for children, and surveillance). This paper describes instances of how current laws and legal authorities affect the public health goal of preventing obesity in both positive and negative ways. It also highlights the progressive use of laws at every level of government (i.e., federal, state, and local) and the interaction of these laws as they relate to obesity prevention and control. In addition, general gaps in the use of law for obesity prevention and control are identified for attention and action. (These gaps serve as the basis for the companion paper, which delineates options for policymakers, practitioners, and other key stakeholders in the improvement of laws and legal authorities for obesity prevention and control.)

Publication Citation

37 J.L. Med. & Ethics 28-36 (Supp. 1 2009)