Editorial: Obesity and the law

Obesity might not have a particularly obvious relationship with the law, but University of Windsor law professor Bill Bogart is making a compelling case that regulation has a role to play in addressing the issue in a more humane manner.

“Of obese people who can lose weight, something like 95 per cent regain that weight or more in a five-year period,” said Bogart at the launch of his book, Regulating Obesity? Government, Society, and Questions of Health, at Borden Ladner Gervais LLP in Toronto last Tuesday.

In explaining what he said was a better approach to dealing with obesity at the launch, Bogart suggested the current ways of handling it, such as the “relentless peddling of diets and equipment to people in the name of weight loss,” clearly aren’t working. Among his criticisms is the need to consider other explanations for obesity besides simply looking at calorie intake versus calorie burn. Instead, he referred to research that suggests certain endocrine-disrupting chemicals present in some foods may be causing weight gain. So rather than punishing and castigating overweight people, it’s time to shift the focus to proven approaches that promote health given research showing that the link between obesity and mortality isn’t as strong as many people believe.

“It has long been thought that any excess weight places a person at risk for dying prematurely,” Bogart wrote in an article in the Huffington Post this month. “Yet research now indicates that moderately overweight individuals have the lowest mortality rates; thin people have higher ones. When people are very obese, there is an elevated risk of mortality; the exact extent of it remains in dispute.”

So where does the law come in? Diverting subsidies away from crops that lead to the production of unhealthy products is one option, he said, noting that taxing certain junk food, where the evidence suggests that doing so would be effective, may also be helpful. In addition, he’s calling on governments to end the stigma society places on obesity through changes to human rights legislation to protect people from discrimination and prejudice. “This approach, for all of its vagaries, is way better than obsessing about calories . . . and denying a simple truth: We come in a variety of shapes and sizes,” he said at the book launch last week.

It’s hard to think of a better way to put it.
Glenn Kauth

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