Existing Regulatory Approaches to Reducing Exposures to Chemical- and Product-Based Risk and Their Applicability to Diet-Related Chronic Disease

Published in: Risk Analysis [Epub April 2018]. doi:10.1111/risa.13002

Posted on RAND.org on May 22, 2018

by Deborah A. Cohen, Debra Knopman

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We aimed to identify and categorize the types of policies that have been adopted to protect Americans from harmful exposures that could also be relevant for addressing diet-related chronic diseases. This article examines and categorizes the rationales behind government regulation. Our interest in the historical analysis is to inform judgments about how best to address newly emergent risks involving diet-related chronic disease within existing regulatory and information-based frameworks. We assessed exemplars of regulation with respect to harmful exposures from air, water, and food, as well as regulations that are intended to modify voluntary behaviors. Following the comparative analysis, we explored how exposures that lead to diet-related chronic diseases among the general population fit within models of regulation adopted for other comparable risks. We identified five rationales and five approaches that protect people from harmful exposures. Reasons for regulation include: protection from involuntary exposure to risk, high risk of death or chronic illness, ubiquity of risk, counteraction to limit compulsive behaviors, and promotion of population health. Regulatory approaches include: mandatory limits on use, mandatory limits on exposure, mandatory controls on quality, mandatory labeling, and voluntary guidance. In contrast to the use of mandates, the prevention of diet-related chronic diseases thus far has largely relied on information-only approaches and voluntary adoption of guidelines. There is ample precedent for mandatory regulatory approaches that could address harms related to exposure to unhealthy diets, but several barriers to action would need to be overcome.

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