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J Public Health Policy. 2004;25(3-4):391-407.

Regulating environments to reduce obesity.

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  • 1Law, Policy, and Society Program, Northeastern University, Boston, Massachusetts 02115, USA.


The marked increase in the prevalence of obesity appears to be attributable to environmental conditions that implicitly discourage physical activity while explicitly encouraging the consumption of greater quantities of energy-dense, low-nutrient foods. In the United States food environment, consumers are bombarded with advertising for unhealthy food, and receive inadequate nutritional information, especially at restaurants. In the US school environment children have access to sugary sodas and unhealthy a la carte foods in their cafeterias, at the same time getting inadequate physical activity and nutrition education. In the built environment, sprawl has reduced active living. We describe these environments and explore the potential effects of regulatory measures on these environments. In the United States, regulatory opportunities exist at the national, state and local levels to mandate action and to allocate funds for promising health-promoting strategies. Regulatory approaches, much like litigation, can transform the entire environment in which corporations operate. Even with incomplete enforcement of rules, they send a public message about what is acceptable behavior for corporations and individuals. Additionally, because the United States is party to many multilateral and bilateral trade agreements and is an active participant in the GATT/WTO framework, US regulatory actions promise to have a beneficial impact both domestically and globally.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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