Annual Survey of International & Comparative Law


The obesity pandemic is not unique to the United States, where obesity has been a major health concern for decades. Whereas in the 1980s only about one in six adult Americans were obese, recent surveys reveal that approximately one in three adult Americans are obese today. Worldwide there is a similar upward trend in obesity, as the global obesity rate has doubled since 1980. Because of this trend, the World Health Organization has described the pandemic as “globesity.”

There are extreme costs associated with individual obesity. For many, obesity diminishes quality of life in general because it creates a threat of unhealthy, inefficient lifestyles and reduced earning potential. For the general public, obesity increases many health care costs, the expense of which is displaced onto others through shared insurance costs and government health programs. Also, because the increase in obese children deprives the military of individuals who can serve, obesity is even a national security issue. Altogether, because widespread obesity affects all citizens in terms of costs, productivity, and security, obesity is not just a question of personal health but a problem governments need to address.

Facing this pandemic, numerous governments around the world are taking measures to fight obesity. However, some of these actions negatively impact society while ineffectively addressing the causes of obesity. Part I of this article gives an overview of the causes of obesity. Part II of this article discusses various measures and strategies that countries are using to combat obesity. Part III discusses how these measures are unlikely to increase public welfare because they do not effectively address the causes of obesity and because they adversely affect the most vulnerable populations. Part IV describes why reasonable substitutes for unhealthy foods must be made available. Part V proposes creating reasonable substitutes by increasing access to healthier foods as a solution to obesity.

Cite as: 20 Annl. Survey Int'l. Comp. L. 239 (2014).