The history of legal actions in the areas of automobile and gun safety suggests many potential ways to intervene in the childhood obesity epidemic, Teret said. For example, a life span perspective could be a useful way of conceptualizing legal approaches to food. Laws or regulations could be applied to the consumption of food, as with limits on restaurant portion sizes (although this type of measure would admittedly be controversial). Or legal approaches could focus on the sale of food, as with regulations affecting the food sold in schools. The sale of some food products to minors in places other than schools also could be regulated, or the sale of food could be influenced through taxes, as with the taxation of sugar-sweetened beverages or calorie-dense foods
Legal approaches that affect marketing focus on an even earlier stage of the life span of food and would likely be more effective in reducing obesity. Teret suggested that legislation, regulations, and litigation at the federal, state, and local levels need to do a better job of controlling the marketing of foods so that unfair or deceptive claims about certain foods being healthy are disallowed. The law also can intervene to provide information to consumers that will help them make reasonable choices.
Marketing to children raises special considerations. Commercial free speech (discussed in Chapter 5) is valued in the United States, but Teret identified marketing to children as a rich area for exploration with respect to legal intervention in the childhood obesity epidemic.
Legal approaches can even be applied to food at the design and manufacturing stage, said Teret. Perhaps these approaches could influence the caloric density of foods or their potentially addictive qualities, especially for children. Teret suggested that opportunities to use legislation, regulation, and litigation to address childhood obesity are underexplored.