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Is Big Food really the next Big Tobacco?

March 16, 2014
by P.K. Read
Christian Science Monitor

At its core, the notion of treating ‘Big Food’ like ‘Big Tobacco’ means bringing litigation against large food companies in an attempt to hold them financially liable for obesity and other food-related health issues. Can it work?

Recently, the suggestion that Big Food could be the next Big Tobacco has been the subject of several articles and discussions, including an article published in Politico called The Plot To Make Big Food Pay. At its core, the notion of treating ‘Big Food’ like ‘Big Tobacco’ means bringing litigation against large food companies in an attempt to hold them financially liable for obesity and other food-related health issues, much in the way that lawsuits in the 1990s and the 1998 Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement forced tobacco companies to contribute financially to tobacco-related illnesses and health costs, as well as change labeling and marketing strategies.

According to a 2012 report on obesity in the United StatesF as in Fat: How Obesity Threatens America's Future 2012, compiled by the Trust for America's Health (TFAH) and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), the medical costs due to adult obesity have been estimated at between USD 147 billion to nearly USD 210 billion per year in the United States, the majority of which is related to treating obesity-related diseases, such as diabetes. These costs made up for almost 21 percent of all health care spending in the U.S. in 2012. The report outlines other areas of obesity-related costs, including occupational health and safety costs, decreased worker productivity and and higher workers’ compensation claims.

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