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Tackling Obesity and Disease: The Culprit Is Sugar; the Response Is Regulation

It is staggering to observe the new normal in America: 37.9 percent of adults are obese, and 70.7 percent are either obese or overweight. One out of every five minors is obese. The real tragedy, of course, is the disability, suffering, and early death that devastates families and communities. But all of society pays, with the annual medical cost estimated at $147 billion. The causal pathways are complex, but if we drill down, sugar is a deeply consequential pathway to obesity, and the single greatest dietary source is sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs). The copious amount of sugar in the American diet is no accident. Industry practices and regulatory failures have fueled this explosion. Yet there are sensible, effective interventions that would create the conditions for healthier behaviors. What are the key interventions, and how can we overcome the social, political, and constitutional roadblocks? Tobacco control offers a powerful model, suggesting that success requires a suite of interventions working in concert:  labeling, warnings, taxation, portion sizes, product formulation, marketing restrictions, and bans in high-risk settings such as schools and hospitals. Each intervention deserves detailed analysis, but I’m kick-starting scholarly and policy conversation by systematically laying out the major legal tools.

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