ANNAPOLIS – If overweight Marylanders are looking for someone to legally blame for their fatty physiques, courts could soon be eliminated as an option.
Delegate John S. Arnick, D-Baltimore, has sponsored the Common Sense Food Consumption Act this legislative session that says a consumer is essentially responsible for his or her own dining decisions.
The bill, Arnick said, “says if I am making Oreos and you eat 10 pounds of them you can’t sue me.”
It prohibits people from suing for weight gain, obesity or a health condition that comes from obesity or weight gain.
Lawmakers questioned on the bill were in favor of it, calling it — as the name implies — common-sense legislation.
Minority Leader George C. Edwards, R-Garrett, said he agrees with the intent of the bill.
“It’s got to a point where some of this stuff comes to an end. Most cases, they know what they’re eating,” he said. “A person who ate five or 10 pies a day will probably gain more weight than someone who doesn’t.”
Delegate Susan K. McComas, R-Harford, said: “It makes perfect sense. (It is a) fair bill that prevents frivolous lawsuits and reinforces the need for personal responsibility.”
It’s a pull-yourself-up-by-your-own-double-wide-bootstraps world, many legislators agree.
“I come from a philosophy where people need to be responsible for their own actions,” said Delegate Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington.
But lots of people in Maryland might be eating those five to 10 pies.
According to the director of Maryland’s Preventive Health Services, Lori Demeter, data from the 2003 Maryland Behavioral Risk Surveillance System indicates over 59 percent of Maryland adults are overweight or obese — a 15 percent increase from 1995.
Delegate Joan F. Stern, D-Montgomery — no slouch in the legislative food-fight arena herself — is particularly concerned with children. She backs the intent of the food act and plans to introduce two school bills on physical education and nutrition.
“You just can’t sue somebody because you are overweight,” Stern said. “You can’t go blame somebody else for it.”
But, “Should you be able to sue a school district that doesn’t serve healthy nutritious food? That is a question we might want to explore.”
Maryland is not the first state to contemplate such legislation. According to Arnick, multiple states have already passed similar bills with another dozen or so set to do so.
Representatives of the food industry say they support such legislation.
The vice president for government relations for the Restaurant Association of Maryland, Melvin Thompson said, “The spirit of that legislation is something that restaurants certainly do support.”
But such legislation might be unnecessary, according to the public relations chairman for the Maryland Trial Lawyers Association, Dennis O’Brien.
“The chance that anyone would win a case that would be prohibited by this bill is less than zero,” he said.
“In Maryland you would have to prove you were completely unaware of the health effects of eating Double Whoppers with cheese as your diet. I know of no case in Maryland filed along those lines.”
But he doubts that his organization would take a position either way. “It is probably an unnecessary bill, although we have not met to discuss it in our legislative committee. I would be very surprised if we took any position.”
But if this bill passes, people might need to put down the pies and begin doing what Demeter recommends, exercising and eating a nutritious diet.