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Tuesday, 30 July, 2002, 10:13 GMT 11:13 UK
US lawmakers plan bill to tackle obesity
Women in pool
The US is in the grip of an obesity 'epidemic'
The American Senate is contemplating an obesity bill to help US citizens fight flab.

It would allow government agencies to spend more than $200m on new and existing anti-obesity programmes.


The lifestyles we have adopted in this country have gotten us into an epidemic of overweight and obese problems

Senator Jeff Bingaman
In the United States 61% of adults are considered overweight or obese.

The health problem is estimated to cost the country $117bn a year.

Lawmakers are planning a range of health measures, many of which are aimed at children.

The Improved Nutrition and Physical Activity Act (Impact) proposes to provide more money for anti-obesity schemes in schools.

It also aims to give training on weight issues to health workers, and to fund new parks, cycle routes and recreational centres.

"There's a lot of evidence that the lifestyles we have adopted in this country have gotten us into an epidemic of overweight and obese problems," says Senator Jeff Bingaman, who is one of three sponsors of the bill.

Mr Bingaman says he is also co-sponsoring a bill that would try to limit the sale of junk food in schools during mealtimes.

Fat action

It comes as a group of US citizens launches a law suit against four Fast Food chains including MacDonald's and Burger King.

Caesar Barbar, one of plaintiffs, claims the companies failed to provide enough information about the nutritional and fat content of the food.

Mr Barbar - a 57-year-old maintenance supervisor who weighs almost 125 kilograms (275 pounds) - says he regularly ate fast food until 1996, when a doctor warned his diet could potentially kill him.

He is being advised by John Banzhaf, the George Washington University Professor who pioneered legal action against the tobacco companies.

Obese women
Obesity takes nine years off your life
"The question is as with the tobacco case, should the company bare some responsibility?" he told the BBC.

"We now have companies which are literally going into our schools, where kids are a captive audience, and getting them used to, some would argue hooked on, very fatty foods.

"Soft drinks companies are going into schools and literally paying the schools a bounty for every can or bottle of sugar beverage those kids buy.

"So putting all that together I think certainly there is some responsibility on the part of the Fast Food companies."

'Non-issue'

The Fast Food industry had dismissed the action as completely baseless and frivolous.

But the main food lobby group, the Grocery Manufacturers of America, says there are concerns within the industry.

"We are very concerned in the food industry about talk of class action suits on this level," a spokesman told the BBC.

"Not because I think we're going to lose any cases but because it is very expensive - it's a waste of resources and a waste of time to be in court fighting over a non-issue.

"Our position is we want to maintain and preserve choice. We want to preserve that at all costs, we think that's a very American idea."

See also:

25 Jul 02 | Americas
16 Jul 02 | Breakfast
28 Jul 02 | Health
15 Feb 01 | Health
22 Mar 00 | Health
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