In the war on sugar, Dr. Robert Lustig is a general leading his medical colleagues into battle. The neuroendocrinologist is the public face of the anti-sugar movement, appearing on 60 Minutes and National Public Radio and in the pages of countless newspapers and magazines to make the case that sugar in processed foods is the leading cause of the obesity crisis. This year he added a new line to his resume: law student.

Lustig was one of 12 medical professionals in the inaugural class of the Master of Studies in Law program at the University of California Hastings College of the Law, a yearlong program designed to give nonlawyers a foundation in the law without actually prepping them to practice. The program, a partnership with the University of California, San Francisco, was launched last fall with a goal of informing medical professionals’ research and other goals.

The timing proved felicitous for Lustig, also the author of Fat Chance: Beating the Odds Against Sugar, Processed Food, Obesity, and Disease. He had recently experienced an epiphany after hearing a statement that emerged from an Indian public health forum to the effect that all significant public health advances require the application of the law.

“That statement stuck with me,” Lustig said. “I did a quick search in my head of every single public health crisis that the world has ever faced. Short of the Black Plague, every other public health debacle has required the courts. Lead poisoning, pollution and asthma. Syphilis. Vitamin deficiencies. Teen pregnancy. HIV.”

Lustig already understood that education and personal responsibility would not solve the obesity problem, and became convinced that he needed to speak the language of the lawyers and policymakers who could actually make a difference. Navigating public policy and court systems was something medical school had ill-prepared him for.

“If I was going to be able to translate the science into some public health directive that actually made sense, I was going to need legal expertise,” Lustig said. “I don’t need to be a lawyer, but I need to learn the law — specifically, the law around public health.”

To that end, Lustig spent the past nine months sitting alongside J.D. students in basic courses including civil procedure and constitutional law and in advanced classes including health and food and drug law. He graduated in May. The process was taxing — particularly since law school requires a much heavier reading load than does medical school, he said. But it was incredibly illuminating. “I had the medical knowledge to be an expert witness, but I couldn’t direct any effort without this legal education,” he said. “I now speak the legal language. I have the vocabulary.”

Lustig has established the Institute for Responsible Nutrition, a consortium of doctors and lawyers who aim to supply information to plaintiff attorneys suing the food industry. Earlier this month, he debated former McDonald’s Corp. chief executive officer James Skinner during a health industry conference in Los Angeles. He hopes to become an adjunct professor at the law school next year.

“This is a fight against the food industry,” Lustig said. “This is a public health crisis and there is no pill to fix this. This problem is chewing through the entire bank account of the United States and, really, every other country. It’s become more clear that some sort of public health approach is going to be necessary.”

Contact Karen Sloan at ksloan@alm.com. For more of The National Law Journal’s law school coverage, visit: http://www.facebook.com/NLJLawSchools.

In the war on sugar, Dr. Robert Lustig is a general leading his medical colleagues into battle. The neuroendocrinologist is the public face of the anti-sugar movement, appearing on 60 Minutes and National Public Radio and in the pages of countless newspapers and magazines to make the case that sugar in processed foods is the leading cause of the obesity crisis. This year he added a new line to his resume: law student.

Lustig was one of 12 medical professionals in the inaugural class of the Master of Studies in Law program at the University of California Hastings College of the Law, a yearlong program designed to give nonlawyers a foundation in the law without actually prepping them to practice. The program, a partnership with the University of California, San Francisco, was launched last fall with a goal of informing medical professionals’ research and other goals.

The timing proved felicitous for Lustig, also the author of Fat Chance: Beating the Odds Against Sugar, Processed Food, Obesity, and Disease. He had recently experienced an epiphany after hearing a statement that emerged from an Indian public health forum to the effect that all significant public health advances require the application of the law.

“That statement stuck with me,” Lustig said. “I did a quick search in my head of every single public health crisis that the world has ever faced. Short of the Black Plague, every other public health debacle has required the courts. Lead poisoning, pollution and asthma. Syphilis. Vitamin deficiencies. Teen pregnancy. HIV.”

Lustig already understood that education and personal responsibility would not solve the obesity problem, and became convinced that he needed to speak the language of the lawyers and policymakers who could actually make a difference. Navigating public policy and court systems was something medical school had ill-prepared him for.

“If I was going to be able to translate the science into some public health directive that actually made sense, I was going to need legal expertise,” Lustig said. “I don’t need to be a lawyer, but I need to learn the law — specifically, the law around public health.”

To that end, Lustig spent the past nine months sitting alongside J.D. students in basic courses including civil procedure and constitutional law and in advanced classes including health and food and drug law. He graduated in May. The process was taxing — particularly since law school requires a much heavier reading load than does medical school, he said. But it was incredibly illuminating. “I had the medical knowledge to be an expert witness, but I couldn’t direct any effort without this legal education,” he said. “I now speak the legal language. I have the vocabulary.”

Lustig has established the Institute for Responsible Nutrition, a consortium of doctors and lawyers who aim to supply information to plaintiff attorneys suing the food industry. Earlier this month, he debated former McDonald’s Corp. chief executive officer James Skinner during a health industry conference in Los Angeles. He hopes to become an adjunct professor at the law school next year.

“This is a fight against the food industry,” Lustig said. “This is a public health crisis and there is no pill to fix this. This problem is chewing through the entire bank account of the United States and, really, every other country. It’s become more clear that some sort of public health approach is going to be necessary.”

Contact Karen Sloan at ksloan@alm.com. For more of The National Law Journal’s law school coverage, visit: http://www.facebook.com/NLJLawSchools.