Author Affiliation: O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law, Georgetown University Law Center, Washington, DC; and Department of Health Policy and Management, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore, Md.
Public health agencies face considerable challenges trying to prevent overweight and obesity in society, primarily because a person's own behavior is often the root cause of the disease. Individuals make personal choices about their diet, exercise, and lifestyle, so disease is often thought of as a matter of personal, not governmental, responsibility.
Obesity, one of the 10 leading US health indicators,1 is associated with increased risk of death from type 2 diabetes, hypertension, coronary heart disease, stroke, and certain cancers.2 Yet the proportion of overweight and obese children and adults is alarmingly high and continues to increase. In 2005, 60.5% of adults in the United States were overweight (body mass index, 25-30), 23.9% were obese (body mass index, 31-40), and 3% were extremely obese (body mass index >40). African Americans have the highest obesity prevalence at 33.9%.3 The prevalence of adult obesity increased significantly in every state during the 1990s; therefore, no state will meet the targets for reduced rates of obesity set in Healthy People 2010.4 Similarly, 16% of children and adolescents were overweight, a prevalence that has increased nearly 50% between 1999 and 2002.5 Obesity could shorten the average lifespan of an entire generation by 2 to 5 years, which, if true, would result in the first reversal in life expectancy since data were collected in 1900.6
Gostin LO. Law as a Tool to Facilitate Healthier Lifestyles and Prevent Obesity. JAMA. 2007;297(1):87-90. doi:10.1001/jama.297.1.87