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It's Your Choice continued...

In other words, if you choose to get fat on all-you-can-eat rib fests, perhaps you shouldn't blame Applebee's with a lawsuit later on. You could have selected any of the dozen or so Weight Watchers choices soon to be offered, or other waistline-friendly offerings currently on the menu.

"I'm willing to give everybody the benefit of the doubt and say that buried in these corporations are individuals who really care about the health of the people who buy their products. But I can't believe that the lawsuits we're seeing don't have something to do with the timing of these changes," says Marion Nestle, PhD, MPH, chair of Nutrition and Food Studies at New York University and author of Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health.

"Recently, there have been two very serious investment analyses that say these companies had better watch out," she tells WebMD. "Even if these lawsuits never come to fruition and have no grounds in which to win, they are still putting the companies in a position of vulnerability, particularly because of the documents they are going to have to present."

Even if customers aren't hungry for litigation, there's another factor that may explain the slimmer menu and portion choices under way.

"Salads and other healthy foods are at McDonald's and other restaurants because of what's called the 'veto effect,'" says Stanton. "If there are five people who want to go to lunch together and one says, 'I don't want a hamburger,' that person can veto the other four from going there. If a salad is available, McDonald's can do what it really wants to -- sell the other four hamburgers."

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