What's not to like about the promise by three large soft-drink companies to remove sweetened drinks from schools in order to fight childhood obesity?

It was brokered privately without the usual political grandstanding and compromise, and one of the negotiators was former President Clinton. That's a nice touch, as he knows something about weight problems.

But was it a voluntary, free-market solution to what could have been a brutal political fight? Alas, not quite. Behind the scenes were threats of lawsuits.

And the threats continue should school boards not quickly amend their contracts with suppliers to reflect the deal. ...

This move didn't come out of the blue. A few states and many school districts, including Denver, have begun moving away from carbonated drinks -- a legitimate political response to shifting public opinion.

Unfortunately, perhaps the main motivation for a national agreement was that drink companies had been negotiating with trial lawyers and "public interest" groups, which had threatened to sue if an arrangement wasn't reached. ...

Even the latest agreement doesn't eliminate possible litigation against school districts, he emphasized -- and never mind that districts were not party to the negotiations.

Individuals and institutions should be free to shift diets and menus to match personal or consumer tastes and values. Most other improvements to human welfare manage to flower without mandates from courts.

But some lawyers and consumer groups disagree. They insist on trying to impose their vision of dietary virtue on the rest of us through legal coercion. And their preliminary success with soft drinks is only an opening skirmish. All manner of fast food will be in their sights next.

-- Rocky Mountain News, Denver

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