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Fat and the law: who should take the blame?
journal contributionposted on 2005-02-01, 00:00 authored by Mirko Bagaric, Sharon ErbacherSharon Erbacher
The incidence of obesity in both adults and children is rising at a rapid rate in most developed countries, including in Australia. Some obese people are seeking to place the blame for their condition on the fast-food industry, as demonstrated by the recent litigation in the United States brought by two obese plaintiffs against McDonald's. This litigation was unsuccessful, and on existing Australian negligence principles any similar litigation commenced here is likely to suffer the same fate. Principles of personal responsibility, autonomy and free will should prevail to deny a negligence claim. The risk of obesity and concomitant health problems from eating fast food to excess is an obvious risk which the plaintiff should not have ignored and which he or she has voluntarily assumed. It is for the Australian Government, not the courts, to regulate the behaviour of the fast-food industry. The government should take action by requiring all major fast-food chains to label their products with nutritional information, and by imposing restrictions on the advertising of food to children.