Battle Of The Widening Bulge

fast food AP

It is America's widening war: The battle of the bulge.

The usual weapons like education and exercise just haven't worked. So now, as CBS News Correspondent Mika Brzezinski reports, comes a new strategy: The lawsuit.

The same lawyers who took on Big Tobacco met this summer in Washington to explore whether similar tactics can be used against the food industry.

"The lawyers smell the blood in the water," says John Banzhaf, a law professor at George Washington University. "It seems to be an issue at the moment.

"Maybe it's a movement."

Banzhaf, a brazen crusader against the cigarette, says "don't laugh," because that's what the tobacco industry did 20 years ago.

In their settlement with states, tobacco companies coughed up billions.

"If the fast food companies come in and say we are not responsible for the obesity epidemic, my argument is that is exactly the argument the tobacco industry used, and we beat them," Bahzhaf says.

Banzhaf and others will try to hold the food industry accountable for the $120 billion spent each year to deal with obesity related health problems.

And just like tobacco, the lawyers would target junk food advertising and gimmicks directed at children.

"Ten different toys so you gotta come back until you get each and every one of them," says Lynne Tolbert, a father.

But, unlike tobacco, fast food isn't addictive, says Kelly Brownell, a psychology professor at Yale University.

"People aren't addicted to fast food like they are to a drug like tobacco," says Brownell. "But they certainly can be seduced into a lifestyle that leads them to eat unhealthy foods."

That's exactly what Caesar Barber says happened to him. He claims he's a victim of Burger King, McDonald's, Wendy's and KFC.

"I think all the food I ate from McDonald's and all the three other chains - with the calories, with the grease - was like a time bomb exploding in my arteries," says Barber.

Barber is the first to sue these companies because he is fat and sick.

"Once they are hooked as children, not unlike the tobacco industry, they are yours," says his lawer Samuel Hirsh.

But Steve Anderson, president of the National Restaurant Association, calls the new legal action "ridiculous," and asks, whatever happened to old-fashioned discipline.

"Just because we have electricity doesn't mean you have to electrocute yourself," he says. "To blame it solely on the restaurant industry I think is really swallowing a simplistic notion."

But is eating four times a week at Burger King or McDonald's healthy?

Sure, Anderson says, "if it's balanced, if it's in moderation, if you are getting physical activity."

But Brownell wonders if focusing on personal responsibility leads down a productive path.

"We tried that and it failed," he says.

How to stop Americans from eating too much of the wrong thing: a healthy debate in the food court, now moving to the courtroom.
  • Jaime Holguin

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