Proposed Puerto Rico Law Aims to Punish Parents of Obese Children
It’s no secret that obesity is weighing down our country. Lawmakers have tried everything to get Americans to lose weight from soda warning labels and “fat taxes” to exercise initiatives, but when it comes to getting kids fit it has been anything but easy. However Puerto Rico has a new approach–make it illegal for parents to have obese children.
According to The Guardian, a controversial new bill introduced by Senator Gilbert Rodriguez Valle would label parents of obese children in Puerto Rico “child abusers” and force them to pay some hefty fines. Valle’s bill would make schools responsible for identifying obese children and reporting cases to counselors or social workers. Health Department officials would then investigate the parents to determine the cause of the child’s obesity, and then create a diet and exercise program that’s combined with mandatory monthly check-ins to monitor the child’s progress.
According to The Guardian:
If social workers believed there had been no progress after six months, they would have the authority to open a child neglect case and impose a fine of $500; if after a year they believed things were the same, another fine of $800 could be levied.
Puerto Rico does have a slightly greater child obesity problem, with more than 28 percent of its children considered obese, compared with some 18 percent on the U.S. mainland according to Al Jazeera. Dr. Ricardo Fontanet, president of the Puerto Rico chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, told the Guardian that encouraging parents to get their children to exercise more is also a challenge. According to him the Puerto Rico government is battling a $70 billion public debt crisis, and has little money available for maintaining parks and open spaces. He said:
You see high grass, parks unsuitable for walking or playing, or for soccer, baseball, whatever the children want to play.
The bill is considered to be a radical proposal to curb child obesity, with many doubting that it will ever come into effect or make its way to the states. Valle denied an interview with The Guardian, but Dr. Fontanet said that the politician did not expect it to become law but rather just wanted “to shake the tree.” Even so many are still offering up their critiques in response. Nutritionist Milly Garcia discussed the bill with Fox News Latina saying:
The fact that these childhood obesity cases are rooted in lifestyle does not give one the right to step into people’s private spaces. This is not abuse, it’s a disease. It would mean entering into a private area where the government does not belong. Obesity is the result of many factors and what we need to do is find solutions
This bill is perhaps the definition of government overreach. Yes it’s true that obesity has been linked to lifestyle choices, but other factors such as genetics and economic restrictions can also play a role. Overall having a child that is overweight is hardly the definition of abuse, and targeting these parents is a misappropriation of time and funds that could be spent looking into actual cases of neglect and abuse.