Obesity among populations in industrialized countries is one of the most serious public health threats of the modern era. Although many developed countries, including Australia and New Zealand, face this public health dilemma, the United States population actually has the highest prevalence of obesity among developed nations [1
]. Due to its health impact and costs in terms of health care expenditures and loss of productivity, reducing obesity in child and adult populations is among the nation's priority health goals for the Twenty-first century. Achieving this goal is, however, challenging. Recent national surveillance data indicate that 17.1% of children and adolescents (age 2–19 years) are overweight [2
]. Between 1988–1994 and 2003–2004, the percentage of those categorized as overweight increased from 7.2% to 13.9% among 2–5 year olds, from 11% to 19% among 6–11 year olds, and from 11% to 17% among adolescents in the U.S. [3
]. The prevalence of adult obesity (those over 20 years of age) has burgeoned to 23% of the American population in 2003–2004 [4
]. These trends suggest that Americans are getting heavier despite concerted efforts to address obesity as a public health problem in the U.S. A national goal set in 2000 of reducing childhood and adolescent overweight or obesity from 11% to 5%, and adult obesity from 23% to 15%, by 2010 is now virtually impossible to achieve [5
]. Recently, a survey conducted by researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health estimated that by 2015, potentially 41% of American adults will be obese, and 24% of children and adolescents will be overweight or obese [6
Improved surveillance of obesity among industrialized populations globally has led government and private sector authorities to address obesity as a public health crisis. Public attitudes and behaviors that have contributed to a lifestyle that leads to obesity are quickly changing. Most Americans now consider obesity a serious individual and communal health problem. Public health agencies in the U.S. are working to strategize and develop new approaches to curb obesity. The private sector is contributing resources to combat this problem. Recently, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation announced a U.S. $500 million program to address obesity, particularly among children. Underlying these public and private sector efforts are a host of legal responses at each level of government (federal, state, and local) in the U.S. that are designed to directly or indirectly address obesity and the factors that contribute to it as a public health problem. In this Commentary, we present 10 major legal themes of obesity regulation in the U.S., and offer examples of how laws reflect these themes domestically.