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USA - Regulating the Marketing of Foods to Minors


Jun 22, 2023

The world is facing nutrition challenges that pit individual rights against public health. Should individual rights always be paramount, or should we sometimes sacrifice unfettered commercial freedom in the interest of the public good? This Article examines one pressing public health issue: should we regulate food marketing in the interest of good diet and nutrition for minors?
The issue has become a critical one as poor nutrition and obesity among minors increasingly threaten their health. Adverse outcomes from childhood obesity include type-2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, Blount’s disease, dyslipidemia, hypertension, left ventricular hypertrophy, atherosclerosis, depression, poor quality of life, pseudotumor cerebri, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, nonalcoholic steatohepatitis, obstructive sleep apnea, renal proteinuria, and exacerbation of asthma.2 Particularly troubling are the growing incidence of type-2 diabetes among minors, disproportionately affecting minority groups.
While regulatory protection of minors does not seem controversial, such intervention reflects a more expansive notion of public health than was originally embraced in the United States. Early conceptions of public health were narrow, addressing communicable diseases, sanitation, and safety. Over the years, the notion of public health has broadened, encompassing “what we, as a society, do collectively to assure the conditions for people to be healthy.”
These narrow and broad conceptions of public health bring with them the question, should public health initiatives be limited to the protection of individuals from publicly generated perils? Or should public health also aim to improve the wellbeing of the population more broadly, even when the risk is subject to individual personal choices, as in the case of diet and nutrition?

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