The issue of obesity in the American population has become a hot national topic. While there has been some dispute among interested groups as to the extent of the problem, it seems clear that obesity causes health conditions that include diabetes, heart disease and sleep apnea. Indeed, authorities as established as former Surgeon General Dr. David Satcher have stated that the problem of obesity may eventually cause as much preventable disease and death as cigarette smoking. The sparkplug event on the issue in the legal community was the filing of the Pelman v. McDonald’s Corp. action in a New York state court in August 2002, which was removed to federal court a month later. In that action, two girls, as members of a putative class action of minors, alleged that their obesity and other health problems were caused by their heavy diet of McDonald’s products. The noise on the issue was amplified by the Second Circuit’s decision in Pelman v. McDonald’s Corp., 396 F.3d 508 (2d Cir. 2004), reversing the district court’s dismissal of the action.
The publicity generated primarily by the Pelman matter prompted many state legislatures and the U.S. Congress to propose and/or enact statutes, which have become known as “Cheeseburger Bills,” limiting the liability of food manufacturers, sellers and marketers from claims arising out of obesity and other associated health conditions. These bills seek to prevent the food industry from becoming the “New Tobacco,” as some pundits have predicted.
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