News Release

Obesity lawsuits – lessons learned from tobacco litigation

A model to evaluate potential litigation strategies against the food industry

Peer-Reviewed Publication


Obesity is a serious health issue in the United States, with costs likely to significantly exceed those resulting from tobacco-related illnesses. What are the prospects for using the strategies and tactics from tobacco litigation to drive the food industry to change its practices? How will the food industry respond to the lawsuits now being filed? How will the public health be protected?

In an article in the January 2006 issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, Jess Alderman, M.D., J.D., and Richard A. Daynard, Ph.D., J.D., both affiliated with the Northeastern University School of Law, review the history of tobacco litigation and suggest some ways that public health officials and consumer-protection authorities might push the food companies to provide better products.

The authors point out that the tobacco companies successfully fought litigation for decades until this strategy collapsed in the face of internal industry documents showing deceptive practices. They argue that litigation of individual claims will probably result in expensive defenses from the food industry, much like the tactics used in the early days of tobacco litigation. Writing in the article, Dr. Alderman and Dr. Daynard state, "It is likely that litigation will be as necessary to address the obesity problem as it was to address the dangers of tobacco. The best approach is to focus on public health lawsuits under consumer protection statutes that decrease the industry's incentive to use a scorched earth strategy and encourage the industry to improve the nutritional content of its products and to change its marketing practices."


The article is "Applying Lessons from Tobacco Litigation to Obesity Lawsuits" by Jess Alderman, M.D., J.D., and Richard A. Daynard, Ph.D., J.D., of the Tobacco Control Resource Center, Northeastern University School of Law, Boston, Massachusetts, USA. It is published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, Volume 30, Issue 1 (January 2006).

Full text of the article is available upon request. Contact to obtain copies.

The American Journal of Preventive Medicine ( is the official journal of The American College of Preventive Medicine ( and The Association of Teachers of Preventive Medicine ( It publishes articles in the areas of prevention research, teaching, practice and policy. Original research is published on interventions aimed at the prevention of chronic and acute disease and the promotion of individual and community health. The journal features papers that address the primary and secondary prevention of important clinical, behavioral and public health issues such as injury and violence, infectious disease, women's health, smoking, sedentary behaviors and physical activity, nutrition, diabetes, obesity, and alcohol and drug abuse. Papers also address educational initiatives aimed at improving the ability of health professionals to provide effective clinical prevention and public health services. The journal also publishes official policy statements from the two co-sponsoring organizations, health services research pertinent to prevention and public health, review articles, media reviews, and editorials.

The American Journal of Preventive Medicine is ranked 9th out of 93 Public, Environmental & Occupational Health titles and 14th out of 103 General and Internal Medicine titles according to the Institute for Scientific Information's 2004 Journal Citation Reports.

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Jess Alderman, M.D., J.D., is co-director of the Public Health Legal Clinic and a consulting attorney at the Tobacco Control Resource Center at Northeastern University School of Law. In addition she is an adjunct faculty member in the Law, Policy, and Society program at Northeastern. Dr. Alderman earned a B.A. magna cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa from Wellesley College, an M.D. from the medical school at the University of California at San Francisco (UCSF), and a J.D. cum laude from Harvard Law School. Her research interests include tobacco control, obesity prevention and the role that both physicians and attorneys can play in promoting the public health.

Richard A. Daynard, Ph.D, J.D., is Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and Professor of Law, Northeastern University School of Law. He is at the forefront of the national movement to establish the legal responsibility of the tobacco industry for tobacco-induced death, disease and disability. He is chair of the Tobacco Products Liability Project, president of the Tobacco Control Resource Center ( and editor-in-chief of the Tobacco Products Litigation Reporter. He teaches in the areas of product liability, consumer protection and administrative law and helped develop the concurrent degree program in Law, Policy and Society. Daynard joined other faculty members at the law school and at Tufts University School of Medicine in founding the Public Health Advocacy Institute (PHAI). He now heads a PHAI project to determine whether insights learned in tobacco litigation can be applied to the obesity epidemic.

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