Obesity: Should there be a law against it?
27 September 2006
Whether the law has a role in tackling the current obesity crisis - and if so, how - will be the topic of a conference organised by the University of Sydney law school tomorrow (28 Sept).
"Theoretically, law can do any number of things (both wise and unwise) to reduce obesity," says conference organiser Associate Professor Roger Magnusson, from University of Sydney law school."Law can tax junk food, prohibit food advertising during children's TV programs, require town planners to upgrade footpaths and bike paths, and require restaurants to include healthy menu options."
But debates about law and obesity are too often "narrowly defined in terms of coercive laws and 'fat taxes' versus personal responsibility and the right of individuals to choose," A/Professor Magnusson says. "Such generalisations aren't helpful: there is a lot that law might contribute to obesity prevention at different levels."
He suggests legislation could be used to establish a separate Department of Public Health that is not swamped by the delivery of reactive health services, but which could instead focus on "preventive" health measures and lifestyle changes in co-operation with government agencies and the private sector.
A/Professor Magnusson says we also need to explore ways to create an environment that encourages healthy choices. "It's just not tenable to argue obesity is all about personal choice and then not provide adequate information to enable people to make informed choices."
He says there may also be a case for taxing high-fat foods and subsidising fresh and healthier foods as a way of re-balancing diets. "If business could be nudged towards using oils that are lower in trans-fatty acids, in baked goods and fried foods, the community would be winners."
As we increasingly eat more meals outside the home, the law could also have a role in cafes and family restaurants. "All restaurant keepers - as an obligatory condition of their licence -should be required by law to provide healthy options for diners and to include added nutritional information about all the standard meals listed on their menus."
Speakers include Professor Robyn Martin (UK) and Associate Professor James Hodge (US). One of the sessions will be chaired by Professor Ian Caterson from the School of Human Nutrition and Molecular and Microbial Biosciences(University of Sydney).
What: Obesity: Should there be a law against it?
When: 9am to 3.30pm, 28 September 2006
Where: USyd Law School, 173-175 Phillip Street, Sydney (next to the Supreme Court)
Contact: Kath Kenny
Phone: 02 9351 2261 or 0434 606 100