Jennifer Pomeranz and Kelly Brownell, who are with the Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity, have authored an article titled “Advancing Public Health Obesity Policy Through State Attorneys General.” Referring to the role played by state attorneys general (AGs) in public health policy on tobacco, the authors contend that they “can be leaders in formulating and effectuating obesity and food policy solutions.” The article also takes note of recent actions state AGs have taken regarding purported misleading labeling of food and beverage products.

Among other matters, the authors suggest that, using their parens patriae authority, state AGs “may seek declaratory relief or recover costs or damages incurred by behavior that threatens the health, safety, or welfare of the state’s citizenry [and] can redress wrongs when other remedies are lacking and can act to protect public interests in areas where other parties cannot.” They also suggest that the authority to enforce the states’ civil laws gives AGs the opportunity to vindicate citizens’ rights through consumer protection litigation. The authors further encourage state AGs to bring multistate actions to stop the sale of “addictive” foods and the marketing of “unhealthy” foods to children. They propose that state AGs issue formal written opinions on the legality of taxing “calorically sweetened beverages.”

The article concludes, “Obesity may not be on the radar of every attorney general as a topic for their attention, so state and local advocates should contact and work with their attorneys general to support public health measures at every level. . . . Attorneys general should explore the boundaries of their authority to ensure that they play the most constructive role possible.”