Edited by Zoltán J. Ács and Alan Lyles
Chapter 12: Perspectives on the Economic and Cultural Effects of Obesity Litigation: Lessons from Pelman v McDonald’s
12. Perspectives on the economic and cultural eﬀects of obesity litigation: lessons from Pelman v. McDonald’s José Felipé Anderson INTRODUCTION Most controversial public policy issues in the USA end up in its state or federal courtrooms for resolution. The recent national focus on health and obesity is no exception. The controversial lawsuit by plaintiﬀs against the fast food giant McDonald’s, for serving allegedly unhealthy food that contributes to obesity, has drawn sharp criticism and international media attention (Pelman v. McDonald’s, 2003). Although in some quarters the lawyers bringing the suit were harshly attacked, noticeable changes in the menu of the entire fast food industry occurred shortly after the case was ﬁled. Although it may be years before the legal aspects of this issue are worked out in the courts, it is clear that beyond the possible ﬁnancial recovery for the individual plaintiﬀs in the case, there is a potential for lawsuits themselves to bringing about reform in this multi-billion-dollar industry. This chapter oﬀers some practical perspectives on how tort law and class action litigation may work together to transform the fast food industry in the way that legislation or other political action could not. The McDonald’s case may have the potential to result in decades-long reforms similar to those brought about by tobacco, asbestos and medical products class action litigation. These cases may oﬀer the promise of improving the health conditions for at-risk, poor, minority and disenfranchised communities. These communities may not have the clout...
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