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Cheeseburger with a Side of Personal Responsibility

— June 3, 2015



I’d like a cheeseburger with a side of personal responsibility, please. Let it be known that this is not a fat-shaming post. I deplore the whole idea of fat-shaming. Let a skinny cow try it with me… I’ll dip them in chocolate and eat them. This is a post about the lost art of personal responsibility with a dash of tort reform.

A bit of backstory: over a decade ago (2002, to be precise), McDonald’s and other fast-food restaurants were sued. The plaintiff’s name is irrelevant as sharing it would only lead to the aforementioned fat-shaming. If it led to idiot-shaming, I’d be the first one to print it, though.

The suit claimed that the defendant purveyors of expedited cuisine were responsible for the plaintiff’s obesity. The argument was simple: “They never explained to me what I was eating,” i.e., they didn’t provide nutritional information for customers. This is what I call a “For Real?!?!” moment.

The suit was, thankfully, dismissed. Had it been successful, I’d be writing this post from the first lunar colony as I would have long ago abandoned Earth as having no intelligent life. As it is, it was a close call. While the suit got trashed, 26 states enacted “Commonsense Consumption Act,” which were referred to as “cheeseburger bills.” For Real!?!?

Yes, it really happened. The goal of the cheeseburger bills was to protect fast-food restaurants from frivolous lawsuits, a type of “cheeseburger tort reform,” if you will. Another intent was to encourage people to take personal responsibility for their eating habits. Yes, America, apparently we needed a law to do it. All together now: For Real!?!?

Yep. It gets better! Recently, two economists from Vanderbilt University released a paper about the effectiveness of “cheeseburger tort reform.” Seriously! I couldn’t make up this stuff! In an effort to ensure accuracy, the authors used the fact that the different states’ laws were adopted at different times to help them weed out impacts from changing tastes or regulatory efforts.

The study used data from 2000 to 2012 to determine that the cheeseburger bills may had little impact on the number of McDonald’s locations in the states studied. While there was an increase in corporate-owned restaurants, there was a decrease in franchises. The total number of restaurants per state held steady at approximately 270.

The authors speculate that this was caused by McDonald’s buying back franchises in anticipation of the new found freedom from possible settlements in suits blaming the company for customers’ obesity and health problems.

Bearing in mind that the rest of the data was self-reported from customers, cheeseburger bills apparently had a positive impact on customer behavior. Obese customers were 6.1% more likely to claim that they were taking personal responsibility for their eating habits and trying to lose weight. Customers also state that they were eating 10% more fruits and vegetables than those customers in states without cheeseburger bills.

If, in fact, these self-reported data are correct, excellent! I’m pleased to see that what I would categorize as a completely stupid, unnecessary piece of legislation actually had a positive impact. It does sadden me though, that it took an equally stupid lawsuit and 26 state laws to make people think about being personally responsible for their health and the impact on health of their eating habits. For Real!?!?

Maybe I’m an exceptional human being (my Mother said so, so it must be true!) but I can’t wrap my brain around the idea of eating cheeseburgers, fries and milkshakes three times a week and wondering why I’m fat. If I was eating nothing but veggies and still wasn’t losing weight, I might worry. For the record, I’m vegan and actively working on dumping some extra weight. I sure didn’t need a law to tell me there was a direct correlation between the four pints of Ben & Jerry’s I ate per week before cleaning up my act and being 50 pounds overweight, though.

For Real!


Cheeseburger bills: A bit of a pickle


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