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Course Text: Public Health Law: Power, Duty, Restraint by Gostin (2008)
Chapter 13, “Concluding Reflections on the Field”: This chapter discusses the powers and limits in public health specifically on obesity and chronic disease. It identifies legal interventions to control overweight and obesity. It also examines the methods prescribed to fight these diseases.

Lawrence Gostin suggests that chronic health problems arising from obesity represent “perhaps the most controversial modern problem facing public health” (Public Health Law, p. 492). As such, obesity serves as an excellent case study with which to examine the complexities facing today’s public health professionals and the role that public health law might play. “The challenge for the field is how far it can legitimately go in influencing or controlling individual behaviors that pose little risk to others. If public health officials are proactive they risk losing political support, but if they remain passive they ignore the most common causes of illness, disability, and premature death in the population” (p. 492).

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Some agencies have actively pursued regulation, as did New York City when it sought to ban trans fats and require restaurants to post calorie information. There are other legal approaches, however, that are being used effectively to promote healthier populations.

Recall the various legal tools for public health that you have learned about in this course, as well as the values and rights that are crucial to consider in this field. With these in mind, consider the issue of obesity. How can public health ethically and legally address this formidable problem?

In 250-350 words respond to the following questions:

•How might the tools of public health law be used effectively to address the public health problem of obesity at each of these levels: local, state, national, and international?

•What might be the economic or social ramifications of these legal interventions? Justify why these approaches are legally and ethically sound.


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