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Food Fight!

How should restaurateurs deal with the weighty problem of customers' obesity?

By Julie Monahan

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Holding restaurants liable for a customer's weight problemmay seem like the equivalent of a Chicago baseball fan suing theCubs for pain and suffering. But despite widespread ridicule,efforts to make fast-food companies responsible for obesitycontinue unabashed in federal court. Obesity lawsuits may be aglaring example of a tort system gone mad, but no one believedtobacco lawsuits would go anywhere, either. Food-industry criticssay grounds for legal action reside in what they consider theindustry's excessive lobbying of federal health officials. Thepressure, critics say, has resulted in dietary guidelines that leantoo much in favor of meat and dairy products.

While a federal judge threw out a lawsuit against McDonald'slast January, plaintiff's attorney Samuel Hirsch amended thesuit and refiled it within days. Fast-food chains remainHirsch's chief focus, but industry advocates and legislatorsare acting to protect all food-service entrepreneurs from futurefallout. Remedies in the works in the House and Senate would outlawmaking food-service companies liable for consumer health.

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