In the United States, 69% of adults are overweight or obese and noncommunicable diseases (and especially heart disease) are by far the leading cause of death. These staggering figures continue to grow, despite 20 years of a declared “war on obesity,” and despite the significant health and economic consequences for individuals and for society as a whole. The rise of industrialized production has contributed to this state of affairs, leaving the current food system profoundly structurally flawed, and establishing unhealthy options as the default options. Thus far, laws and policies attempting to address these problems have focused primarily on targeting individual behavior, and they have largely failed to reverse these trends.
Companies—producers, retailers, manufacturers, and processors—play a critical role in shaping the food system and in determining the composition of the food supply. Yet despite these companies’ significant impacts, we pay them little attention when we devise public health law and policy. This course shifts the focus up the supply chain to the big players that are producing the vast majority of our food. It introduces students to systems-level thinking and explores the legal tools corporate law has to offer to improve the food system and public health.
The course will provide an overview of the food system and basic food law; it will introduce students to dietary public health concepts and public health law; and it will delve into discrete topics in law—especially corporate law—that can be used to improve food systems and public health. There are no prerequisites and no prior knowledge is required, though interest in corporate law would be helpful.