Posts Tagged ‘obesity’

“A Taxonomy of Obesity Litigation”

A Little Rock friend of mine had an emergency gap in his law review, and solicited me to write about the fast-food litigation. I’m not a big fan of the eight-footnotes-a-page-style that law reviews like, but I think the piece is a good overview of what has happened to date. The article, 28 UALR L. Rev. 427 (2006), can be downloaded at SSRN (help me catch up with Bainbridge!) or at the AEI Liability Project website. (cross-posted at Point of Law)

I worry that events have outstripped me; one sentence in the article, “Why is selling soda [to 17-year-olds] an attractive nuisance, but selling … Internet connectivity is not?” predates the MySpace litigation.

De-villainizing Dr Pepper

Commentary on soda-tax proposals that’s equally applicable to the obesity litigation wars:

…soda, by itself, isn’t making us fat. According to numbers from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, regular soda consumption has been falling every year since 1998, but at the same time obesity has skyrocketed. In 2004, we actually drank less soda per person than in 1995, long before obesity was making headlines.

(Sara Cseresnyes and Andrew Chamberlain, “Soda Tax the Wrong Way to Help Curb Obesity”, Denver Post, Jul. 21, reprinted at Tax Foundation site) (via Radley Balko, who adds, “Yep. In fact, the beverage that has by far seen the largest increase in consumption since about 1980 is bottled water. Diet soda is second.”) Related: Lorraine Heller, “The Obesity Blame Game”, Beverage Daily, Aug. 7, and reader feedback at that publication.

Update: Diet-book author drops suit against Coke

The Coca-Cola Co. can rest easy: diet-book author Julia Havey has withdrawn her lawsuit (see Jul. 17) charging that one of the company’s product loyalty campaigns encourages kids to consume so many soft drinks that they could die. Havey declared herself satisfied that a Coke spokesman told the press that purchasers seeking to accumulate product credits could share the soft drinks with friends instead of being obliged to consume them all personally. Coke has said Havey’s lawsuit is a publicity ploy intended to call attention to her release of a new diet book. And this:

Havey said she wouldn’t be surprised if Coca-Cola sued her.

“The world of litigation is a crazy place,” she said.

(“Lawsuit Over ‘Lethal Doses’ Of Coca-Cola Dropped”, KPRC Houston, Aug. 2).

Diet-book author sues Coke over promotion

A St. Louis weight-loss instructor is suing the Coca-Cola Co. over its product loyalty campaign, claiming the program might encourage kids to drink so much of the sugary soft drink that they could die.

The campaign, “My Coke Rewards” gives customers points for buying Coca-Cola products. …

Coca-Cola spokesman Scott Williamson said [Julia] Havey is “horribly misinformed” about the rewards program and the lawsuit is simply an attempt to drum up attention for weight-loss books she writes.

(Christopher Leonard, “Missouri woman sues Coca-Cola”, AP/Springfield, Mo., News-Leader, Jul. 14). Update Aug. 3: she drops suit.

“Middle-class peeves cost more money than exists”

Via R.J. Lehmann (Mar. 27), here are some figures indicating that the sum total of the alleged costs of other people’s bad behavior may well exceed the total sum of money in existence. To be more specific: start by adding up the claimed health expenses, productivity losses and other social costs of such indulgences as alcohol ($185 billion a year, it’s said with spurious precision), overeating ($115 billion), gambling ($54 billion), and so forth. Then throw in categories such as the costs of crime, time wasted by employees visiting web sites and watching sports events, and so forth. By the time you’re done, Lehmann says, you can “come up with a grand total of $7.39 trillion – well in excess of the $6.70 trillion that actually exists” — at least if you’re willing to include a few dodgy entries in the catalog, such as taxes. (Thomas C. Greene, The Register (UK), Mar. 16).

It’s not hard to see the relevance of this line of logic to themes often dealt with in this space. In the utopia of the litigators we would succeed in charging the social costs of our overeating to the food business, the costs of our gambling to the casinos and lotteries that led us on, the costs of 9/11 to assorted banks, airlines, building owners and Saudi nabobs, the costs of street crime to deep-pocketed entities guilty of negligent security, and so on and so forth for the costs of auto accidents, pharmaceutical side effects, failure to learn in school, domestic violence, etc. It would not be surprising if the sum total of all the different injuries, insults and indignities dealt out to the human race, if monetized at the rates prescribed by advocates, handily exceeded the sum total of wealth on hand to pay, even were the whole wealth of the world placed at the courts’ disposal.

Nanny-state lawsuits in the New York Times

Tom Zeller, writing on the MySpace lawsuit, quotes observers who unanimously condemn the species of nanny-state lawsuit, and quotes blogger Ken Chan:

“I recognize that there’s a certain part of the population who don’t know a steady fried chicken diet is bad for them. I feel bad for these people,” Mr. Chan wrote. “However, these are probably the same people who don’t put on their seatbelts and who suck down endless coffee during the day and Coors at night. So let’s be honest with ourselves here. You’re not going to save these people. You’re just screwing up the chicken for the rest of us.”

Zeller probably didn’t get the memo from the Times editors about the “benefits” of such lawsuits, but we’ll no doubt see some plaintiffs’ attorney defending the McDonald’s coffee lawsuit in the letters section. (Tom Zeller Jr., “A Lesson for Parents on ‘MySpace Madness'”, New York Times, Jun. 26). Mildly related, and encouraging for what it says about people starting to be annoyed by the food police: Fluffernutter controversy in Massachusetts.

“Meddlesome busybodies” of the CSPI

Steve Chapman finds that the “science” of the misnamed Center for Science in the Public Interest in its KFC suit isn’t actually the sort that should be relied on too heavily, and observes:

…the health dangers of an occasional Extra Crispy drumstick are anywhere from negligible to nonexistent. But letting CSPI decide what’s best for all of us? Now, that’s risky.

(“Extra crispy chicken and deep-fried panic”, syndicated/Tracy (Calif.) Press, Jun. 19).

Meanwhile, carried along on a tide of credulous press coverage, CSPI says it’s thinking of suing Starbucks over its overly calorie-laden wares (“Starbucks May Be Next Target of Fatty-Fighting Group”, Reuters/, Jun. 19). Amy Alkon is not impressed (Jun. 19), while Radley Balko (Jun. 17) picks up on perhaps the ripest absurdity in the report:

The union contends that Starbucks staff gain weight when they work at the chain. They are offered unlimited beverages and leftover pastries for free during their shifts.

“This is why organized labor is so important,” he adds. “Otherwise, who’s going expose Starbucks’ exploitive practice of giving its employees free stuff?”

KFC sued over fattening menu

“KFC may be finger-lickin’ good, but a consumer group is suing the chain over the kind of fat used to fry the food. Dr. Arthur Hoyte, a retired physician from Rockville, Md., and the Center for Science in the Public Interest, want a judge to order Kentucky Fried Chicken to use other types of cooking oils or make sure customers know about trans fat content immediately before they make a purchase.” (“Colonel Sanders Under Attack for Trans Fat Content”, AP/WTOP, Jun. 13). For more on food suits, see our Eat, Drink and Be Merry page; for more on the nanny-maniac CSPI and its coercive designs on our menu choices, see Jan. 20 and Feb. 7, 2006; Feb. 25, 2005; and Sept. 19, 2003.

More: Peter Lattman notes (Jun. 14) that “According to the story on the suit in today’s New York Times, fast-food chains began using trans fats in the 1980s after nutrition groups demanded that the chains stop frying in beef tallow and palm oils. Nowadays, trans fats are considered more harmful than saturated fat.” Plus Jonathan Adler and commenters, Jacob Sullum.

Foie gras and slippery slopes

Chicago’s recently enacted ban on the delicacy (Apr. 27, May 4) has got Alderman Edward M. Burke thinking: now that we’ve started, why can’t the city ban less healthy frying oils and that sort of thing too? (Fran Spielman, “Alderman wants to limit fatty, fried fast food”, Chicago Sun-Times, Jun. 8).

More: In April, the Washington Post ran an op-ed by a cardiologist who averred:

Food calories are so pervasively and inexpensively available in our environment that they should be regarded as a pollutant. Just as an asthmatic can’t help but inhale pollutants in the air all around him, we Americans cannot help but ingest the calories present in the environment all around us.

(John G. Sotos, “A Modest — and Slimming! — Proposal”, Apr. 7). The Consumerist (Apr. 13) and Rogier van Bakel (Apr. 18) react with appropriate scorn. And a new report commissioned by the federal government proposes that the feds jawbone restaurants into reducing portion sizes (“FDA Report Urges Restaurants to Help Downsize America”, AP/Washington Post, Jun. 3). See also Radley Balko, Apr. 21.