Public Health Law and the Prevention and Control of Obesity

Authors


Address correspondence to: William H. Dietz, Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 4770 Buford Highway NE, MS K-24, Atlanta, GA 30341 (email: wcd4@cdc.gov).

Abstract

Context: Obesity constitutes a major public health challenge in the United States. Obesogenic environments have increased owing to the consumption of calorie-dense foods of low nutritional value and the reduction of daily physical activity (e.g., increased portion sizes of meals eaten in and out of the home and fewer physical activity requirements in schools). Policymakers and public health practitioners need to know the best practices and have the competencies to use laws and legal authorities to reverse the obesity epidemic. For instance, statutes and regulations at the federal, state, and local levels of government have been implemented to improve nutritional choices and access to healthy foods, encourage physical activity, and educate consumers about adopting healthy lifestyles.

Methods: In an effort to understand the application of laws and legal authorities for obesity prevention and control, in June 2008 the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention convened the National Summit on Legal Preparedness for Obesity Prevention and Control. An outcome of this summit will be the publication of the proceeding's white papers written by eight law and subject-matter experts with substantive contributions from summit participants, which will identify actionable options that sectors and organizations at various jurisdictional levels can consider adopting.

Findings: Law has played a critical role in the control of chronic diseases and the behaviors that lead to them. The use of a systematic legal framework—the use of legislation, regulation, and policy to address the multiple factors that contribute to obesogenic environments—can assist in the development, implementation, and evaluation of a variety of legal approaches for obesity prevention and control.

Conclusions: Although public health–focused legal interventions are in an early stage and the direct and indirect impact they may have on the obesity epidemic is not yet understood, efforts such as the summit and white papers should help determine potentially viable legal interventions and assess their impact on population-level change.

Ancillary