CBS Sunday Morning 8/11/02


 When we say 'Fat Chance,' we always mean slim chance, even no chance. When you eat too many french fries and gain a lot of weight, can you get into last year's clothes? Fat chance. But one suit you might try on is a lawsuit. Our cover story is reported by Mika Brzezinski.

 (Footage of food and people at various fast-food restaurants)

 Unidentified Man #1: Cheeseburger.

 Unidentified Woman #1: Regular hamburger Happy Meal. Unidentified Man #2: A couple of Whoppers.

 Unidentified Man #3: A cheeseburger, please, and...


 (Voiceover) A hamburger and fries, super-sized, with soda on the side.

 Unidentified Man #4: Macs are up.

 BRZEZINSKI: (Voiceover) Call it fast food, call it junk food--it's everywhere, and it's the American way

 (Footage of various fast-food restaurant signs)

 BRZEZINSKI: How many times a week do you go to a fast-food restaurant? Tell me the truth.

 Unidentified Woman #2: A lot--two to four, maybe more.

 Unidentified Man #5: Eddie, you got to eat.

 BRZEZINSKI: How often do you guys go to fast food?

 Unidentified Man #5: Two, three times a week, mostly on weekends. And sometimes the kids want to go there, you know, on weekdays, then we go on the wee--on the weekdays.

 (Footage of overweight people)

 BRZEZINSKI: (Voiceover) With Americans facing an epidemic of obesity--more than 60 percent of us are overweight; 13 percent of our kids--perhaps it was only a matter of time.

 DAN RATHER (CBS News): Part of the blame goes to super-sizing or combo-deal marketing. For just a little more money, you get a lot more high-calorie food.

 (Footage of fast food)

 BRZEZINSKI: (Voiceover) Critics say the sale of greasy, fat-filled fast food ought to be a crime.

 (Footage of attorneys and others meeting in Washington, DC)

 Mr. JOHN BANZHAF (George Washington University Law School): This seems to be a very, very, very hot issue, so maybe it's a movement.

 BRZEZINSKI: (Voiceover) John Banzhaf hopes what you're watching is history in the making.

 DAYNARD: The food industry that was clearly doing a lot of stuff that, if not illegal, was sort of pushing the envelope in terms of questionable accuracy in representations.

 BRZEZINSKI: (Voiceover) This is a strategy meeting to discuss making the food industry pay for making Americans fat. Sound like a stretch? Not to these attorneys. They're used to uphill battles.

 Mr. BANZHAF: Well, almost 40 years ago, I originated the idea--the crazy idea at the time--of using legal action against tobacco, and everybody said it wouldn't work. It has worked tremendously effectively.

 (Footage of of smokers)

 Mr. BANZHAF: (Voiceover) When the lawyers brought those suits, they were called crazy.

 BRZEZINSKI: (Voiceover) A victory Banzhaf, a professor at George Washington University Law School, hopes to repeat.

 (Footage of overweight people)

 Mr. BANZHAF: We have an epidemic of obesity. It's time to try something new. Legal action worked very well against tobacco. We know it will work equally well against the problem of obesity.

 BRZEZINSKI: (Voiceover) And you're looking at what could be a living, breathing test case. A few weeks ago in New York, Caesar Barber, who used to eat fast food five times a week, joined the first-ever obesity class-action lawsuit filed against four fast-food giants: McDonald's, Burger King, Wendy's and KFC.

 Mr. CAESAR BARBER (Suing Fast-Food Restaurants): I think that all of the food I ate from McDonald's and the rest of the re--other chains, with the sodium, with the high fat content, with the calories, with the grease, was a--was like a time bomb.

 BRZEZINSKI: (Voiceover) A time bomb Barber blames for two heart attacks, his high cholesterol, hypertension, and diabetes.

 (Footage of people eating fast food; fast food being prepared)

 Mr. BANZHAF: My guess is that most of your viewers right now have no idea what percentage of your recommended daily allowance of fat they will get if they go in and buy a typical double bacon cheeseburger with super-size fries.

 (Footage of Burger King drive-thru)

 Unidentified Woman #3: Welcome to Burger King. Can I take your order, please?
 BRZEZINSKI: (Voiceover) So before you head to the drive-thru, you might want to know that the average adult shouldn't have more than 65 grams of fat a day and 2,000 calories.

 This burger has over 1,000 calories and 25 grams of fat; fries here, 540 calories, also 25 grams of fat, and they are delicious, irresistible. Some say these fries can be downright addictive. But should the food industry be held accountable because Americans eat too much of this stuff?

 (Footage of people eating fast food)

 Mr. STEVE ANDERSON (President, National Restaurant Association): Well, just because we have electricity doesn't mean you have to electrocute yourself.

 BRZEZINSKI: (Voiceover) Steve Anderson is president of the National Restaurant Association.

 Mr. ANDERSON: I think it is a torturous and twisted maze to get from the tobacco industry to the restaurant industry.

 (Footage of people in a restaurant; dishes being prepared; desserts)

 Unidentified Man #7: ...the Atlantic salmon.

 Unidentified Man #8: The salmon? OK.

 Mr. ANDERSON: The average American goes out to eat four times a week, which means that even if you're eating 21 meals a week, that means there are 17 other meal functions where people are eating, and to blame it solely on the restaurant industry I think is really swallowing a simplistic notion.

 (Footage of Kelly Brownell; people eating fast food)

 BRZEZINSKI: (Voiceover) But to hear Kelly Brownell tell it, fast food, tobacco--it's all the same.

 Mr. KELLY BROWNELL (Yale University): Bad food is in the same league with cigarettes.

 BRZEZINSKI: (Voiceover) Brownell is director of Yale University's Center for Eating and Weight Disorders. He says we're living in a toxic food environment, an environment which threatens to make us bigger by the bite.

 Can you blame the fast-food industry or the food industry for actually making people fat?

 Mr. BROWNELL: The environment makes people fat, and the food industry is part of that. The food industry certainly contributes to poor diet because the healthy parts of the food industry are not advertising, not promoting their foods. The unhealthy parts of it are promoting their foods very heavily, so of course it follows that people are going to eat those foods.

 (Footage of overweight people, with statistics superimposed; child with french fries)

 BRZEZINSKI: (Voiceover) Obesity-related deaths have climbed to more than 300,000 a year, second only to tobacco-related deaths. Obesity-related costs--medical bills, lost income, have also soared, to $117 billion a year, and matters may only get worse. In the past three decades, the number of overweight children has tripled.

 Mr. BROWNELL: I would bet every penny I have that America will be more obese five years from now than they are today, because the environmental influences are so overwhelming.

 (Excerpts from food commercials)

 BRZEZINSKI: (Voiceover) Just how overwhelming? Kids are inundated with food advertising. The average child sees more than 10,000 food ads on TV each year, most for high-calorie, high-fat, high-sugar eats.

 Dr. NAOMI NEUFELD (Medical Director, KidShape): I don't think that there's any question that there's too much marketing to kids of fast food.

 BRZEZINSKI: (Voiceover) And it all adds up. Dr. Naomi Neufeld is medical director of KidShape, a program aimed at getting overweight kids to change their diets.

 (Footage of KidShape class)

 Unidentified Woman #4: What about what's on the food? How can you cut down on the fat?

 Dr. NEUFELD: These same families that will put their kids in seat belts to assure that they'll have a long life, think about going to fast-food restaurants in the same way, and eat--eat there with care. I'm not saying never--I'm not saying never eat there. Eat there occasionally, but plan what you feed your child a little better.

 (Footage of children eating fast food)

 BRZEZINSKI: (Voiceover) The food industry couldn't agree more. Steve Anderson.

 Mr. ANDERSON: Is the government going to tell people what they can eat and can't eat? Are we going to implant a little chip and monitor certain families that, you know, if they come to the counter and say, 'Oh, my God, you're looking a little overweight. We're not going to serve you today. You might want to go to the salad bar'?

 (Footage of people eating fast food; overweight people)

 Mr. ANDERSON: There's a certain amount of personal responsibility that people have about their own diet.

 Mr. BROWNELL: Yes, people are personally responsible for their behavior, but we have to ask ourselves whether that leads us down a very productive path, focusing more on personal responsibility. We tried that, and it's failed.

 BRZEZINSKI: So, what do we do? Do we demonize the french fry?

 Mr. BROWNELL: One-fourth of all vegetables eaten in the United States are french fries. That--it's a disgraceful picture.

 (Footage of french fries)

 Mr. BROWNELL: So if in order to make progress we have to demonize the french fry, let's demonize the french fry.

 BRZEZINSKI: (Voiceover) And that's a strategy about eating lawyers will now take to court.

 Mr. BANZHAF: They can try to stand fast, make fun of us, call us the grease Gestapo and the food police, and then we're going to sue them and sue them and sue them, and I think ultimately, as with tobacco, we're going to win.

 (Footage of fast-food restaurant signs; visual of SUNDAY MORNING sun logo; cash register; people entering mall; mall interior; news article with photograph of Evelyn Ryan; contest entry coupon)

 OSGOOD: (Voiceover) Next, we're off to the mall--and what a mall. And later, the contest winner who's tough to describe in 25 words or less.