Using Legal Action to Help Fight Obesity

TEN Fat Law Suits Successful So Far [Click Here]
Defendants All Settle and Give Plaintiffs What They Want

Govt. Rules Health Insurance Companies Can Charge the Obese More
to Help Encourage Them to Lose Weight and to Pay More of Medical Costs of Obesity
Read About It, Then Read the Ruling and Underlying Documents

Official Government Guidelines Provide Basis for Obesity Malpractice Law Suits Against Physicians
Read About Why, and Then Examine the Underlying Documents

Case Against McDonald's For Contributing to Obesity of Minors is
Alive, Well, and Proceeding With Pre-Trial Discovery
Read the Complaint and ALL the Judicial Decisions
Banzhaf, fast food, McDonald's, law suit, class action, fat tax, obese, obesity
   John F. Banzhaf III  is a nationally-known professor and practitioner of public interest law, see
   He has been in the news about using legal action against the problem of obesity in some of the same ways he pioneered in its use against the problem of smoking, see
  He summarized his views on this topic (with more links) here
obese, Banzhaf, obesity, McDonald's, fat tax, law suit, class action
Seattle School Board Under Fire Over Contract to Peddle Coke for Kickbacks: CNNS.PI S.PI 2 2 Ltrs, FTimes, STimesWTimes, Editorials: One, Two

Addiction Letter Sent to Major Fast Food Giants:  Daily TelegraphCNNCNNfnToday ShowAPLetter

Restaurants  Put on Notice Of  Potential Addictive Effects of Foods At Major Food Policy Conf.  Telegraph  UPI Am. Med News Rest. News  CNBC Chicago Trib
TIME: Novel legal theories revive the case against McDonald's — and spur other big food firms to slim down their menus

Ice Cream Cos Threatened

Read Recent Releases

Banzhaf's Novel Law Class

Coke Nixes Contracts

Suits Not Frivolous: NYT
  Kraft and Other Big Food Companies Beginning to Yield to Legal Threats: USA Today,  Chi. ST, Miami H,  NY Daily News,  Good Morning America

Banzhaf Testimony Opposes Immunity: C-SpanSLTrib WashTimesEconTimesTestimonyFox News, Today

Law & Obesity Conference Effective: Wash Times, Wash Times II, ReutersArticle I,  Reuters II ,  Article II   Conf Info 

Obesity case ruling whets appetite of food activist: Judge almost acts as coach for new try against industry, Chicago Trib. [2/2/03]
Fast food is addictive in the same way as drugs, say scientists, The Independent [1/31/03]
Fast-food industry has a fat fight on its hands, Toronto Star1/29/03]
Fat Suits Weighs In, Mac Headed Down Tobacco Road? National Law Journal 12/11/02]
Crossfire, CNN [1/24/03]
Food companies urged to act to deflect blame for the nation's increase in obesity, NY Times [12/4/02]
Dan Abrams Report, MSNBC [1/21/03]
Washington Times Editorial and  response
 McDonald's France Says Slow Down on the Fast Food, New York Times [10/30/02] 
Super-sized junk food addiction: Gotta have a Big Mac? Maybe you're going through withdrawal, Daily Telegraph [2/05/03]

McDonald Law Suit Dismissal Only Temporary

Judge Permits Amendment to Correct Problems, and Offers Suggestions
A "Pyrrhic Victory" and "Roadmap to New Complaint" - Obesity Report
NY Post Calls It a "Hollow Victory"

  The judge who dismissed the law suit against McDonald's acknowledged that the dismissal was only temporary, and was not based upon any fundamental flaw in the legal theory. 
  Rather, he said the suit had to be dismissed at this time only because the plaintiffs had not alleged that some of "the dangers of McDonald's products were not commonly well known" by consumers.  He not only granted them thirty days to cure the pleadings by adding these allegations, but even went so far as to suggest some of the dangers which are not commonly known -- creating what one impartial report called a "roadmap" for winning. 
  For example,  the judge said that "Chicken McNuggets, rather than being merely chicken fried in a pan, are a Frankenstein creation of various elements not utilized by the home cook.   . .  Chicken McNuggets, while seemingly a healthier option than McDonalds hamburgers because they have 'chicken' in their names, actually contain twice the fat per ounce as a hamburger.  It is at least a question of fact as to whether a reasonable consumer would know -- without recourse to the McDonald's website -- that a Chicken McNugget contained so many ingredients other than chicken and provided twice the fat of a hamburger."
  Then, after being equally critical of the hidden dangers of McDonald's french fries, the judge concluded:  "If plaintiffs were able to flesh out this argument in an amended complaint, it may establish that the dangers of McDonalds' products were not commonly well known and thus that McDonalds had a duty towards its customers."  In other words, adding those allegations to the complaint could easily result in the case still going forward. 
  A similar but impartial analysis was provided by the respected "Obesity Policy Report Weekly" which said:  "A federal judge dismissed a major obesity lawsuit against McDonald's this week, but practically invited the plaintiffs to file an amended complaint based on a novel theory that processed foods are more dangerous than their 'plain jane' versions.  And, the court said an example of advertising to kids that was belatedly offered to the court might also provide adequate grounds for a lawsuit."
  After concluding that the court's decision may be only a "pyrrhic victory" for McDonalds, the Report said that, "in two critical areas, the court's decision practically gives the plaintiffs a roadmap to file a new complaint."  link
  Similarly, the New York Post, which editorially opposed the law suit, nevertheless termed it "Mickey D's Hollow Victory," saying: 
Unfortunately, the judge's ruling was based primarily on a  legal technicality - and he generously gave the plaintiffs a chance to try their luck again.  . . . In fact, Sweet appeared actually to urge further litigation by calling attention to, in some detail, McDonald's Chicken McNuggets - which he termed a 'McFrankenstein creation.'  There you go: New York isn't litigious enough that a federal judge has to blaze trails for the trial lawyers. Indeed, look for this suit to be re-filed in 30 days or so - with Sweet's jurisprudential roadmap followed tittle and jot.   Why Sweet is encouraging the plaintiffs to take a second bite from the burger should be a matter for whomever supervises judges at that level. " link
  Banzhaf helped win the first McDonald's case, and is an advisor on this one. [To read the court opinion, click here
 [To read the original complaint,click here]

Jurors Will Hold Fast Food Companies Liable for Obesity - Surveys
Support For Plaintiffs Same in Obesity and Tobacco Cases

        Surveys show  that potential jurors are about as likely to vote for plaintiffs in obesity law suits as they are to support smokers suing tobacco companies, even before hearing any evidence, and even prior to any court-ordered discovery of incriminating fast food documents.
        "This is a remarkable finding, since we have had many years of successful tobacco litigation, public revelations about widespread wrongdoing by cigarette manufacturers, and literally tons of very incriminating and damaging tobacco industry documents, while the obesity law suits and public understanding about them are still in their infancy,” says public interest law professor John Banzhaf of George Washington University Law School.
        A 2002 survey by The National Law Journal found that 53% of potential jurors would side with tobacco companies if they were sued by a smoker, and only 28% said that they would vote for the plaintiff.  Now, a new March 2003 survey of potential jurors by the litigation research firm Brown DecisionQuest shows that, in a suit by an obese person against a fast food chain, 56.5% would vote for the defendant, and 24.4% would award damages to the plaintiff.
        "This virtually identical result is astonishing, given that McDonald's and others have called the fat suits 'frivolous' and 'senseless,' and that most potential jurors don't yet know about studies showing that fast foods are the major cause of obesity; that fast foods can produce addictive effects -- like nicotine -- in many users; and that the chains deliberately manipulate the foods to make them far more dangerous and habit-forming than they would otherwise be," says Banzhaf,  whose law students won the first fat law suit against McDonald's.
        Although a bare majority of potential jurors --  56.5% -- did say they would vote for the fast food defendant, this response was elicited without hearing any of the plaintiff's evidence, and only after respondents were asked a question which may have inadvertently colored their response.  The potential jurors had been asked if parents and caretakers, not restaurants, should be blamed if children become overweight from eating too much fast food.  But, argues Banzhaf, that question falsely suggests that the law recognizes only one cause for an injury or illness.
        On the contrary, he says, all jurisdictions recognize that there can be two or more causes of injuries or illnesses, and in such situations each cause is held responsible for its fair share of the damages.  This occurs very frequently when the driver injured in an automobile accident, as well as the other driver, was negligent, but is still able to recover damages.
        It also occurs when careless people fall off the top step of step ladders, or are electrocuted by using electric hair dryers around water faucets or even in the shower. In such cases manufacturers are also held liable if they -- like fast food companies -- failed to provide any warnings of the risks of using the products, even through these dangers are at least as clear, obvious, and well known as the dangers of eating fast foods.
        Cigarette manufacturers are routinely being held liable for millions --  and in some cases billions -- of dollars in suits brought by smokers even though, in virtually every case, the smokers admitted that their negligent conduct was one of the causes of their illness.  Moreover, in the tobacco cases the plaintiffs are adults, whereas in the McDonald's case in which Banzhaf is serving as a advisor, the plaintiffs were young children when they used the product.
        Banzhaf also notes that the law does not blame children for the negligence of their parents.  "McDonald's is careful to provide very clear notices with the small toys it distributes warning that they are not to be given to young children because of  the dangers of choking.  If they failed to provide such a warning and the child choked, McDonald's would almost certainly be held liable for failing to provide a clear and conspicuous warning, even though the danger was obvious and the parents were clearly negligent for giving the toys to their infants."
         If the survey respondents were asked whether fast food companies bear -- along with parents and caretakers -- some responsibility for the sudden epidemic of obesity in children, and were then asked if the companies should be held liable for their fair share of the resulting costs, the number of potential jurors willing to vote for the plaintiffs almost certainly would have been far higher, even before they hear the evidence, suggests Banzhaf.
        In fact, there is lots of very powerful evidence that jurors would hear which would also likely help persuade the undecided -- and even those who now potentially side with the fast food chains -- to vote for plaintiffs, says Banzhaf. This includes:
    ■ a careful economic study showing that the proliferation of fast food restaurants -- and not personal responsibility, lack of parental responsibility, eating habits at home or in traditional restaurants, etc. -- is responsible for over 65% of the current epidemic of obesity;
    ■ numerous scientific studies showing that frequent eating of fast foods can produce addictive-like effects -- similar to those of nicotine or even heroin -- not only in humans, but even in laboratory animals which have been made to experience withdrawal symptoms;
    ■ testimony about how fast food chains deliberately alter foods to increase the amount of fat, saturated fat, and calories to dangerous amounts far higher than most consumer realize;
    ■ economic evidence that obesity costs the American public more than $115 billion a year, and that much of it paid for by people -- like most jurors -- who are not obese, in the form of higher taxes and vastly inflated health insurance premiums, since obesity balloons the cost of medical care for each obese person by approximately $1,500 a year.
        Banzhaf suggests that potential defendants are certainly acting as if they worry that jurors may hold them liable for their fair share of the $115 billion annual cost of obesity:
    ■ McDonald’s in France is warning consumers not to eat at their fast food restaurants more than once every week, and PepsiCo will warn customers about overeating their junk foods;
    ■  McDonald’s will list the fat and calorie content of its menu items in Great Britain;
    ■ More healthful menu choices are rapidly being added, with McDonald’s now even allowing children to substitute fresh fruit for french fries with some of their Happy Meals;
    ■ Both the National Restaurant Association and the Grocery Manufacturers of America have asked Congress for protection against obesity-related law suits, and Representative Ric Keller  [R-FL] has already introduced such legislation [HR 339] for fast food chains.

Every Obese Person Costs Us $1500/yr Medical Costs

Should Obese Pay Their Fair Share in Higher Premiums?
Fair Premiums Could Deflate $117 Billion/yr Obesity Epidemic

  The obese have annual health care costs $1,500 higher than similar people of healthy weight says a new study, raising the issue of whether their health insurance premiums should be correspondingly higher.
  "Charging everyone the same for health insurance unfairly forces those who maintain a healthy weight to subsidize obesity, whereas charging the obese correspondingly higher premiums would not only be fairer, but provide them with a strong incentive to eat healthier and exercise more, and reward those who take steps to maintain a healthy weight," says public interest law professor John F. Banzhaf III of the George Washington University Law School.
  Banzhaf's law students initiated a successful law suit against McDonald's over the fat in its french fries, and Banzhaf is serving as advisor on a new law suit against McDonald's for its role in making several children obese. The judge has granted plaintiffs in that action thirty days to correct some technical problems in their pleading in a ruling Obesity Policy Report called a "Pyrrhic Victory" and a "Roadmap to a New Complaint."
  "If obese people were required to pay $60 more each month for health insurance -- less than half the cost their obesity adds to our health care costs -- it would create a powerful incentive and frequent reminder for them to eat less and exercise more, while at the same time relieving those who maintain a healthy weight from being forced to subsidize obesity," argues Banzhaf.
  President George W. Bush, HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson, and aerobics creator Dr. Kenneth Cooper have all suggested the possibility of using financial incentives to help fight the nation's sudden epidemic of obesity.
  Here is one way which the public might embrace because we already agree that smokers should pay more for life insurance; those who live in older wooden homes should pay more for fire insurance; and those who drive expensive cars should pay more for automobile insurance, says Banzhaf. 


   The following are links to other web sites and/or related information.

   Links to news reports are in the right column.

For additional information about the class action law suit against McDonald's, check out this web site by the lawyer who brought the legal action:

For more information about the law students who helped to bring about the class action law suit against McDonald's, and have subsequently formed a legal-action vegan organization [VLAN], see  Vegetarian Legal Action Network OR  VeggieFries

To read an interesting judicial opinion in which a court upheld a complaint that ads for sugary cereals aimed at children were deceptive, click on :  Comm. for Children's Television Inc.  v. General Foods Corp., 673 P.2d 660 (1983) (Supreme Court of California)

As of June 2000,  17 states — including California and New     York — Chicago, and the District of Columbia already have special taxes on soft drinks or snack foods.  link

 On Thursday, 7/25/02, a complaint was filed against the major fact food companies  for causing obesity and related diseases.  See, FAT SUIT FILED, Fast Food Chains Blamed For Obesity, Illnesses, ABCNEWS.COM [07/26/02] link
OR Would You Like Fries With That?, American Morning With Paula Zahn, CNN [07/26/02]  link ; Who's To Blame For Obesity, Crossfire, CNN [07/26/02]  link
To read the complete legal complaint,  click here
To read the new legal complaint on behalf of children who were lured into obesity, click here

Fast-Food Restaurants Face Legal Grilling - Lawyers explore whether the fast-food industry should be liable for the effect its meals and marketing have on public health, Christian Science Monitor [08/08/02] link


Fast Food Nation, Book Review link

Food For a Fat Nation, USA Today link

Fighting Big Fat, Newsweek link


McDonald’s to Offer Lower-Fat Fries [citing law suits], MSNBClink[09/03/02]

Battle of the Widening Bulge, Eye on America, CBS-TV Evening News,[08/08/02]text AND VIDEO

Fat Chance; Lawyers Want to Sue Food Industry for Making People Fat, CBS Sunday Morning [08/11/02]  link

First Cigarettes, Now Burgers, The Early Show, CBS-TV [07/15/02] link

 The Man Who Is Taking Fat to Court, Herald [7/14/02] link   ["Banzhaf, it must be said, is far from your stereotypical litigation lawyer, forever looking out for an opportunity to screw a corporation or public institution and make a fast buck. Not only does he not make a cent from the suits that he inspires, he would, in fact, much rather not bring them in the first place. He would love it if the government would overhaul the food industry to make people healthier, just as he would have preferred the government to take action on smoking unprompted."] 

Is Big Food To Blame?, Ediet News [mailed to 10,000,000 subscribers]  link["Posting the nutritional values in plain view. Issuing warning labels on fast food. Offering healthier alternatives to the traditional fatty fare. Banzhaf claims these are 'the profits' he hopes to earn through litigation. He tells eDiets he won't make a dime from the suits. And that's fine with him."] 

Tobacco wins set table for fast-food suits,Chicago Tribune [08/26/02]  link

Fast food on trial, NPR [08/08/02] link

 The scary fat end of the wedge:  A US 'obesity bill' could make foodmakers liable for the health problems of overweight Americans, Financial Times of London [7/12/02] link

 Fat Nation Fights Back–Sort Of, U.S. News & World Report [07/01/02] link

Fast Food Nation: An Appetite For Litigation, The US lawyer John Banzhaf was the first to sue the tobacco companies in the mid-Sixties. But now he wants to prosecute the junk-food industry for      making Americans obese. The Independent (London) [06/04/02] link

 Junk Deal: Could Junk-Food Manufacturers Soon Be Facing Tobacco-Style Lawsuits? Some People Think It's Time, Men's Health Magazine [7-8/2002] p1  p2  p3  p4  p5   Image

Can We Sue Our Own Fat Asses Off?, [05/24/02]  link

Food Companies Caving In - Tobacco Showed the Way The Times of London  link

Whose Fault Is Fat?: Experts Weigh Holding Food Companies Responsible for Obesity, [02/22/02] link

Lawyers See Fat Payoffs in Junk Food Lawsuits, Fox News Channel [01/23/02] link

Law Suit Against McDonald's, Canadian TV [2 minute news clip] [03/23/02] link

Fatuous Response to Obesity. San Francisco Chronicle  link

 Fast Food Industry Hit With Lawsuit, CROSSFIRE on CNN [09/02/02] link

Professor Brings the Classroom to the Courtroom, The Hatchet [4/15/02] link

Are Fast-Food Chains in Danger of Becoming the Targets of Enormous Lawsuits, Just Like the Tobacco Industry, Fox News Videoclip [01/25/02]

Hannity & Colmes Discuss Suits Against the Fast-Food Industry With Prof. John Banzhaf, Fox News Transcript [01/24/02] link

Payback Time: The O'Reilly Factor Discusses the McDonald's Law Suit With Prof. John Banzhaf, Fox News Transcripts [01/29/02] link

Is There a Fat Tax in Your Future?, Scripps Howard [04/30/02] link

 Legal Eagles  Eye Fat of the Land , Courier Mail [07/03/02] link

 The Anti-Big Mac Attack, National Review [07/14/02] link

 THE INFLUENCE INDUSTRY: Slimming down - America Activists seek federal help to curb high obesity rates, The Hill [07/03/02]  link

Fast Food Industry Faces Lawsuits As Anger Grows Over Fat America, Scotland on Sunday  [07/07/02] link

 Too Many Americans Are Obese, So Call In The Lawyers, La Repubblica.It EnglishItalian

"Fat Fraud" Lawsuits Could Fatten Wallets
Los Angeles Times [08/03/02] link

Professor sues McDonald's, [09/16/02] Hatchet

McDonald's To Settle Suits on Beef Tallow in French Fries, New York Times [03/09/02] link

In Bid to Improve Nutrition, Schools Expel Soda and Chips, New York Times [05/20/02] link

Using Legal Action to Fight Obesity,
Chronicle of Higher Education [04/19/02] link

Big Mac Legal Attack, The Connection, NPR (National Public Radio) link

Moneyline on CNN [06/04/02] Transcript

Big Food Fight, Insight  cover  [07/15/02]  link

 Fast Food Law Suits, Abrams Report, MSNBC-TV [07/22/02]  link

Burger fans view lawsuit as bum steer, San Diego Union Tribune [08/04/02]  link

For Hindus and Vegetarians, Surprise in McDonald's Fries, New York Times [05/20/01] link

Waistline Deadline, The Australian , [06/20/02] link

Gefundenes Fressen: 30 Jahre lang hat John Banzhaf die Tabakkonzerne bekriegt, um ihnen Milliardenentschädigungen abzutrotzen. Nun hat der US-Rechtsprofessor die Fast-Food-Industrie im Visier. DER SPIEGEL [06/10/02]  link
Computer translation from German to English

Le fast-food au banc des accusés - Un chausson avec ça? link to original site, link to mirror site,
Computer translation from French to English

Chewing the Fat, New Republic, [06/17/02] link

Food Makers Get Defensive About Gains in U.S. Obesity, Wall Street Journal [06/13/02]  link

McDonald's and Coke Fund Healthy-Eating Drive, The Guardian [06/14/02] link

 Oskarzony McDonald's przeprasza: Czy koncerny fast food zaplaca wysokie odszkodowania?  link

The Twinkie Offense [5/13/02]  link

Fast food - przysmak ryzykanta, forumonet.pllink

Fat Chance: Food Cops and Closing in, link
AND Big Fat Attack link
AND Today Big Tobacco, Tomorrow Big Mac
link ALL in Washington Times

Fat chance: food cops are closing in, [07/24/02]  link

Fast Food Calorie and Fat Info. from the Washington Post
Fast Food Calorie and Fat CHART
Interactive Meal Planner - Calculate for Total Meal

Fast Food Causes Great Bulk Of Obesity - Report
Imposes Over $50 Billion/Year Costs on Taxpayers

Law Suits Seek to Force Fast Food Outlets to Bear Their Share;
Shifting These Costs to Outlets Would Also Deter Obesity

        Fast food companies are responsible for more than 65% of the rise in American obesity, and for more than $50 billion of the annual health care costs obesity imposes on taxpayers, according to a new study for the National Bureau of Economic Statistics. [SEE BELOW]
        This undercuts the arguments of the fast food giants who, in their defense of law suits seeking to hold them responsible for their share of the costs of obesity, claim that there are so many causes of the current epidemic that it would be impossible -- as well as unfair -- to blame them for any significant portion.
        "If fast food chains are the predominant cause of the current obesity epidemic, and contribute more to it than lack of exercise, web- and channel surfing, fattening foods eaten at home and at other restaurants, and all other causes COMBINED, it is only fair to hold them liable for their fair share, especially since that share can now be estimated," said law professor John Banzhaf.
        "For years tobacco companies argued that they shouldn't be held liable to smokers because there are many causes of lung cancer, but they lost on that issue when it became plain that smoking was the predominate cause, and therefore the most likely cause under the 'predominance of the evidence test'."  Now that we can show that fast food restaurants are the predominant cause of obesity -- more responsible than all of the other causes combined -- the same result should occur, says Banzhaf, who masterminded the first successful fat suit against McDonald's, and is an advisor on two (including one by obese children) which are still pending.
        He also notes that, since obese people tend to eat at fast food restaurants more often than the average American, fast foods may be more than 70% or even 75% responsible for their weight problems.  For example, the child plaintiffs in the pending law suit claim that they frequently ate at McDonald's many times a week.
        Forcing fast food restaurants to pay even 10% of the costs their products impose on innocent taxpayers -- over $5 billion a year -- would cause them to raise their prices, thereby discouraging the consumption of the major cause of obesity in the U.S., argues Banzhaf.

from Belt-Loosening in the Work Force, New York Times [3/2/03]

In analyzing the relationship of weight to incomes, food prices, restaurants, workforce participation and other variables, the economists concluded that the growth of fast food accounted for 68 percent of the rise in American obesity.

See: An Economic Analysis of Adult Obesity


To return to the main web page about Prof. John F. Banzhaf III of the GWU Law School,  click here