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20/11/02 . By Gail Appleson . Reuters/Yahoo! News . USA
McDonald's tries to spit out obesity lawsuit
NEW YORK (Reuters) - McDonald's, trying to kill a controversial lawsuit blaming it for youth obesity, has said that people know that gobbling up too many Big Macs and fries will make them fat.
During the first court hearing in the highly publicised case, a lawyer for the fast-food chain urged a federal judge to dismiss the suit because restaurants are not legally required to tell consumers what they already know. Although other suits have been filed over the issue, lawyers said this is the only one that is actively being litigated.
U.S. District Judge Robert Sweet said he would decide later whether to dismiss the suit. "The plaintiffs' lawsuit asks the court to abandon common knowledge, common sense," Bradley Lerman, a lawyer representing McDonald's said on Wednesday.
He said that the law does not require that restaurants warn customers of the "universally understood" fact that common foods contain fat, salt, sugar, cholesterol and other basic ingredients. Lerman said that reasonable people know what products are in hamburgers and fries and what excessive eating of those products does to one's waistline over a prolonged period.
"People don't wake up one day thin then wake up the next day and are obese," he said.
The suit, argued Lerman, does not allege that McDonald's products are defective or contaminated but instead tries to hold the company responsible for telling people something that is commonly understood. He said that McDonald's has never billed their Big Macs or fried foods as being as low in calories as a "spinach salad."
Oakbrook, Illinois-based McDonald's issued a statement after the hearing saying that choices available at its restaurants and the nutrition information it provides demonstrates that the lawsuit's allegations are unfair. For example, among its lower calorie items is a meatless sandwich called a McVeggie Burger.
"With most meals eaten at home, and about 900,000 dining options available to American consumers every day, McDonald's is no more responsible for an individual's overall diet and lifestyle choices than any other food destination, whether it's your own kitchen, local restaurant or grocery store," the company said.
However Samuel Hirsch, the lawyer who filed the suit, alleged that McDonald's has deliberately tried to mislead the public into thinking Big Macs and other products are nutritious. He said that while the chain might post nutritional information in its restaurants the information is often difficult to understand and placed in hard-to-read locations.
"It's a serious lawsuit with serious issues," he said. "They have deliberately withheld information."
The suit is one of four cases filed against McDonald's and other fast food chains over the obesity issue. However two cases have been dismissed and another is dormant.
The current action, which seeks unspecified damages, was brought on behalf of overweight children who consumed foods at two McDonald's located in the Bronx. One of the plaintiffs is a 14-year-old girl who is 4 foot 10 inches tall and weighs 170 pounds.
It seeks class action status to represent other children throughout New York State.
The plaintiffs allege that the McDonald's restaurants violated New York
State's consumer fraud statutes by failing to adequately disclose the
ingredients in some of the foods and the possible health effects caused
by eating them.