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Diets high in fats, sugars, and sodium are contributing to alarming levels of obesity, cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and certain cancers throughout the United States. Sugary drinks, which include beverages that contain added caloric sweeteners such as flavored milks, fruit drinks, sports drinks, and sodas, are the largest source of added sugar in the American diet and an important causative factor for obesity and other diet-related diseases.

City and county governments have emerged as key innovators to promote healthier diets, adopting menu labeling laws to facilitate informed choices and soda taxes, warnings labels, and a soda portion cap to discourage consumption. These measures raise tension between the public health promotion and the food and beverage industry’s interests in maximizing profits. This article analyzes the food and beverage industry’s efforts to undermine local government nutrition promotion measures, including lobbying, funding scientific research, public messaging, and litigation. It examines four case studies (New York City’s soda portion cap, San Francisco’s soda warnings ordinance, and soda taxes in Philadelphia and Cook County), and distills steps that local governments can take to address industry opposition and help ensure the legal viability and political sustainability of key public health interventions.

Publication Citation

Sarah A. Roache, Charles Platkin, Lawrence O. Gostin & Cara Kaplan, Big Food and Soda Versus Public Health: Industry Litigation Against Local Government Regulations to Promote Healthy Diets, 45 Fordham Urb. L.J. 1051-1089 (2018).