Ten Fat Law Suits (including 2 threatened ones) Have Been Successful -- While One is Still Pending

The movement to use law suits and other forms of legal action as weapons against the growing epidemic of obesity -- in much the same way that legal action has proven to be so effective in the war on smoking and for nonsmokers' rights -- began at the George Washington University Law School in Washington DC.  To learn more about how this new and very successful movement started, click on and view the following video clips:

Battle of the Widening Bulge, Eye on American, CBS-TV Evening News, [08/08/02]

Lawyer Preps for Fast Food Fight,  CBS-TV Evening News [11/03/03]

Law Suit Against McDonald's, Canadian TV  [03/23/02]

Eight so-called fat law suits -- and two threatened fat law suits -- have already been successful, forcing major corporations to make significant concessions aimed at slowing the epidemic of obesity, pressuring them to make many additional changes, and resulting in payments of about $30 million. Below is a summary description of the eight law suits and the two threatened law suits, followed by documents which provide additional information.

1. McDONALD’S FRENCH FRIES: A class action law suit put together by law professor John Banzhaf’s law students charged that McDonald’s failed to disclose that its french fries contained beef fat.  McDonald’s, although it originally called the suit frivolous, nevertheless agreed to provide the desired disclosure, and to pay $12.5 million to charity to settle the suit and avoid a trial.

2. BIG DADDY'S DIET ICE CREAM:  A suit certified as a class action charged a company with misrepresenting the amount of fat and calories in its ice cream.  The company agreed to settle for several million dollars and coupons.

3. PIRATE'S BOOTY DIET FOOD:  Another class action law suit charged a company with misrepresenting the fat and calories in its popular diet food.  It likewise settled for several million dollars.

4. KRAFT'S OREO COOKIES:  Food giant Kraft was sued for failing to disclose that its popular Oreo cookies contained dangerous trans fat.  Rather than contest the charges, it settled out of court by agreeing to remove the trans fat from its cookies, resulting in a cookies which is less hazardous and also lower in calories.

5. THE NEW YORK CITY SCHOOL BOARD agreed to settle a law suit brought against it by agreeing to ban all sugary soft drinks, and most fattening foods, from its classrooms.

6. McDONALD'S TRANS FAT:  McDonald's was sued after it announced, with great fanfare and publicity, that it would remove trans fat from its offerings, and then quietly reneged on its promise.  McDonald's agreed to make the requested disclosure, and to pay $8 million to settle the law suit. [SEE SECOND RELEASE BELOW]

7. SODAS IN SCHOOLS:  Facing a series of class action law suits in several different states for selling fattening sugary soft drinks in schools across the country, the nation's bottlers were forced to agree to virtually ban the sale of sugary soft drinks in schools, especially during school hours.  [SEE FIRST RELEASE BELOW]

KFC was sued for having dangerous levels of trans fats, and for failing to disclose that and the risk of trans fat.  KFC has now agreed to switch cooking oils to virtually eiminate trans fats, a move which will probably also reduce overall fat calories. [SEE THIRD RELEASE BELOW]

Faced with a law suits charging them with breach of their fiduciary duty to their students if they renew a "cokes for kickback" [pouring rights] contract, the members agreed to turn soda vending machines off during most of the day, to require healthier beverages in the machines, and to make the contract cancellable at will [rather than for a fixed term of five years].

10. KELLOGG COMPANY:  To avoid a threatened fat law suit by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), the Campaign for Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC), and two Massachusetts parents, Kellogg Company will adopt nutrition standards for the foods it advertises to young children. http://cspinet.org/new/200706141.html

As this is written, only one major fat law suit is pending.  This class action law suit, which charges McDonald's with contributing to the obesity of minors, was unanimously upheld by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit and is now proceeding.
To read the original complaint in this case: http://banzhaf.net/docs/nyckids.html
To read the District Court's initial decision upholding three differents legal causes of action [legal theories]: http://banzhaf.net/docs/sweet1
To read the District Court's second decision dismissing the case because of an alleged pleading deficiency: http://banzhaf.net/docs/mcop2.html
To read the US Court of Appeal's unanimous decision reinstating the case [pleading was sufficient]: http://banzhaf.net/docs/pelmancoa.html
To read the latest District Court opinion permitting the case and pre-trial discovery to go forward: http://banzhaf.net/docs/sweet3.html

Fattening Sodas Banned From Schools Nationwide [03/05/06]
Legal Actions Set Stage For Historic Agreement

About 35 million school students will not longer be able to buy sugary soft drinks in schools under the terms of an historic agreement aimed at
reducing the epidemic of childhood obesity.  A major factor behind the industry's total reversal of policy was legal action, says public
interest law professor John Banzhaf who first originated the concept of using legal action as a weapon against obesity, and who both took and
consulted on the major legal actions aimed at "liquid candy" in schools behind today's agreement.  Link

Banzhaf was the first to threaten legal action over the sale of sugary soft drinks in schools, using the threat of litigation against
individual school board members to force the Seattle School Board to refuse to renew a five-year so-called "Cokes For Kickbacks" contract
under which the school received a percentage of the profits from school soda sales.

In 2003, at the first conference on "Legal Approaches to the Obesity Epidemic" which he helped to bring about, Banzhaf helped persuade many
of the attendees to begin working on a massive multi-state class action aimed at the sale of sugary soft drinks in schools.

Announcements of continuing progress on these law suits pressured Coca-Cola Company, PepsiCo, Cadbury Schweppes, and other members of the
American Beverage Association to reverse their previous stance which had denied any relationship between obesity and soda sales in schools, and
to agree in August of 2005 to a limited ban on the sale of sugary soft drinks in schools.  Today's agreement substantially extends that initial

Professor Banzhaf also kept up the pressure by threatening law suits against the nation's school boards and individual school board members
over the issue, a move which apparently was a factor in the growing number of schools refusing to sell sodas, and pressuring the bottling
companies to release them from contracts.  http://banzhaf.net/docs/sodawarn

"Today's agreement should soon begin to have a major impact on the epidemic of pediatric obesity, since sodas are the major source of
unnecessary calories in the diets of many children, and soda sales in schools encourage unhealthy consumption patterns both inside and outside
of schools," says Banzhaf.

"The industry's capitulation also shows how legal action can be a powerful force in fighting obesity, pressuring companies to take steps
they have steadfastly refused even to consider," says Banzhaf.  He notes that six fat law suits have already been successful, and that the threat
of litigation has been widely credited with being a major factor in pressuring fast food companies, other food companies, and others to make
significant changes aimed at the problem of obesity.

"McDonald's decision to end supersizing, the increased disclosure and display of nutritional information by fast food companies, the
elimination of trans fat from Oreo cookies, as well as today's decision regarding school soda sales are only a few examples of how legal action
can be as effective in fighting obesity as legal action was in fighting smoking," says Banzhaf, who also was the first to use and suggest using
legal action against smoking.

Sixth Fat Law Suit Successful - More on the Way
McDonald's Alone Pays Over $20 Million to Settle

The sixth fat law suit has just been successful, with McDonald's paying
$8.5 million to settle it in addition to its agreement to pay $12.5
million to settle an earlier fat law suit.  A third fat law suit,
accusing the company of contributing to the obesity of minors, was
recently reinstated by a unanimous U.S. Court of Appeals.

"This brings to six the number of successful fat law suits which have so
far been brought, and more are on the way.  McDonald's and others
initially labeled them frivolous, but the fast food giant obviously
thinks they are serious enough to pay out over $20 million in past
several years to avoid damaging jury verdicts," says public interest law
professor John Banzhaf of George Washington University Law School.

The first successful fat law suit against McDonald's was put together by
Prof. Banzhaf's law students, and charged McDonald's with failing to
disclose that its french fries contained beef fat. McDonald's settled it
by paying $12.5 million, and making the required disclosure.  The fat
law suit settled today charged McDonald's with failing to inform
consumers of delays in a plan to reduce fat in the cooking oil used for
its popular french fries and other foods.  It will now pay to make those
disclosures, and to educate the public about the deadly dangers of trans
fat in foods.

Two earlier fat law suits against food companies for failing to properly
disclose the fat and calorie content of their products were settled for
a combined total of about $8 million.  Another suit forced Kraft Foods
to take the trans fat out of its Oreo cookies, thereby substantially
reducing the risk and the calories.  Another law suit was the catalyst
which forced New York City to ban sugary soft drinks and most fattening
foods from its schools.

"Even just the threat of a law suit forced the Seattle School Board to
back down on plans to renew a 'Coke For Kickbacks' contract under which
students would have been able to buy sugary soft drinks during the
school day with the school getting a share of the profits, and four
federal judges have all now held that the legal theories under which
children seek to hold McDonald's liable for its fair share of causing
them to become obese are meritorious," says Banzhaf.

"Be assured that more fat suits are on the way, and that this most
recent victory will encourage other lawyers concerned about obesity to
consider joining this growing movement.  It took more than thirty years
after the Surgeon General's report on smoking for plaintiffs to win any
money, yet six fat law suits have now been successful within only a few
years of the Surgeon General's December 2001 report on obesity."

Moreover, food companies have already made numerous changes in response
to these law suits and the threat of more law suits, and the trend is
likely to continue, claims Banzhaf.  Looking just at McDonald's, it has:
* added healthier entrees and healthier desserts, including fresh fruit
* provided more nutritional information about fat and calories on its
web site, in brochures, on wall charts, and on the back of tray mats
* eliminated supersizing
* begun warning customers not to eat at its restaurants more than once a

Banzhaf says that a coordinated number of law suits are likely to be
filed shortly in several different states.  All are aimed at protecting
children, as was the law suit against McDonald's recently reinstated by
the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2d Circuit.

Eighth Fat Law Suit Successful - Against KFC 10/30/06
Fast Food Fryer to Eliminate All Trans Fats

The eighth fat law suit has just been successful, with fast food giant
KFC agreeing to eliminate trans fats from its menus. "This move will
make its foods far healthier, and also probably lower overall in fat and
calories," says public interest law professor John Banzhaf, who started
the fat law suit movement.

The move by KFC comes just months after the Center for Science in the
Public Interest sued the company for having deadly trans fats in many of
its foods, and for failing to warn consumers. Today's decision also
comes on the heels of a capitulation by the nation's major bottlers in
agreeing to virtually eliminate the sale of sugary soft drinks to
students in schools after they were sued by a coalition of public
interest anti-obesity attorneys.

McDonald's is probably next, says law professor John Banzhaf, who both
popularized the movement and helped initiate the first successful fat
law suit against McDonald's. "If KFC, which deep-fries almost
everything it serves, can remove trans fats, so can McDonald's."
Indeed, McDonald's was already forced to pay $8 million in a settlement
in another fat law suit for breaching its earlier commitment to remove
trans fat from its offerings.

The earlier fat law suits which have been successful have cost the
industry about $30 million (much of which went to charity), and have
helped to end supersizing at McDonald's, get deadly and fattening trans
fat out of everything from Oreos to major fast food offerings, force
schools to stop selling fattening "liquid candy," pressured fast food
and other companies to offer less-fattening menu items and more
nutritional information, etc. Since obesity costs the American economy
over $115 billion annually, these moves are likely to save us all
billions -- at a relatively small temporary cost to big business.

Similarly the law suits against cigarette manufacturers -- which Banzhaf
also helped initiate and promote -- have brought in tens of billions of
dollars (most of which have gone into state treasuries), forced smokers
to begin paying more of their fair share of $140 billion smoking costs
us all annually, and helped (by raising the cost of cigarettes) slash
the percentage of adults who are smokers -- all moves which are already
saving hundreds of millions of dollars in health care and other costs.

For more information on this general topic,
see http://banzhaf.net/obesitylinks.html