Lawmakers in Puerto Rico are considering passing a bill which would fine parents of obese kids to the tune of $800 if they do not lose weight. Though experts are appalled by this proposition, Senator Gilberto Rodriguez insists that the proposed penalty will help parents make healthier choices and ultimately promote children’s wellbeing. It is to be noted that more than 28% of Puerto Rican children suffer from obesity, which is much higher than the 18% in the U.S. mainland.
Sen. Rodriguez proposes to bring down this rate by having schools find obese children and then refer them to health department advisers to determine the cause of obesity, formulate a diet and exercise plan and follow up every four weeks.
If the “situation” (namely obesity) persists even after six months, parents can be fined up to $500. If the kids do not show a significant weight loss in a third progress a report six months later, the parents can be fined up to $800.
“What’s next? Will they be fining parents of children suffering from other diseases? Maybe diabetes? Maybe cancer? Maybe something else?” said Nikhil Dhurandhar, who chairs the department of nutritional sciences at Texas Tech University.
Rodriguez’s bill assumes that people who are obese can chose not to be, but it’s not that simple, said Dhurandhar whose research has shown that obesity can be caused by a multitude of factors, including the environment in a mother’s womb, too much or too little sleep and chemicals in the environment. There’s more to losing weight than eating less and moving more, he said.
Similarly, Rebecca Puhl, deputy director of the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at the University of Connecticut, says, “This proposal is very unfair and inappropriately penalizes and stigmatizes parents. Childhood obesity is a highly complex issue, and while the home environment is important to address, much broader societal changes are required to effectively address obesity.”
Child obesity is endemic in Europe too, where one in every three children are overweight or obese.
The parents of obese British children should also be fined, recommends an obesity charity, labeling them as “lazy slobs who don’t care”.
The Puerto Rican proposition to fine parents of such kids is being cited as an example by Tam Fry, the spokesperson for the National Obesity Forum and chair of the Child Growth Foundation.