Obesity and Public Policy: A Roadmap for Reform


Publish Date:
September 21, 2015
Publication Title:
22 Virginia Journal of Social Policy & the Law 491
Journal Article Volume 22 Page(s) 491
  • Deborah L. Rhode, Obesity and Public Policy: A Roadmap for Reform, 22 Virginia Journal of Social Policy & the Law 491 (2015).
Related Organization(s):


(From the Introduction [footnotes omitted])

IN principle, the United States is deeply committed to finding solutions to the rise of obesity and its health consequences. In practice, however, public policy has fallen short. The Surgeon General and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have pronounced obesity to be a national “epidemic,” and First Lady Michelle Obama has described it as a “public health crisis.” Almost four-fifths of Americans consider adult obesity to be a major public health problem. Yet many policy responses have proven controversial, and those most often recommended have frequently faced an uphill battle at the federal, state, and local level. At the same time that obesity rates have been rising sharply, many jurisdictions have resisted, or rolled back, strategies such as soda taxes or regulation of advertising directed at children.

This Article analyzes leading policy initiatives. It proceeds in three parts. Part I explores the causes and consequences of the obesity problem. Discussion focuses on the complex relationship between environmental, cultural, behavioral, and biological factors that influence weight, as well as the individual and social costs of obesity-related health conditions. Part II looks at the justifications for government intervention and the objections of paternalism that it evokes. Part III explores those interventions that have achieved the greatest prominence, including disclosure requirements, taxes, bans on certain sugar-sweetened beverages, food stamp modifications, zoning regulations, children’s marketing, physical activity initiatives, food policies, litigation, and education.