Puerto Rico is weighing a measure that some lawmakers feel may be the solution to childhood obesity – a fat fine.
The bill, introduced by Sen. Gilberto Rodríguez Valle on Monday, calls for hitting the parents of obese children with a fine if their offspring’s excess weight seems to arise from their neglect, reports El Nuevo Día.
Sen. Jose Luis Dalmau defended the measure as "necessary for society" and argued that there should be ramifications for parents of children whose weight gets out of control.
“Here in 'La Isla del Encanto' there are no consequences,” he said, according to El Nuevo Día. “The obese child is a health problem that can become a financial burden because the child can develop diabetes, heart ailments and other diseases.”
The bill calls for education officials to identify obese children and educate parents about its detriment on growth and health. If, after six months, education officials determine that the child’s condition has not improved, a staffer can refer the case to child-family services authorities as one involving abuse or mistreatment.
If after another six months the situation persists, the parents can be assessed up to $500 in fines.
Six months after that, if the problem continues, the parents can be fined an additional $800.
The proposal, which is being debated in various public forums, has plenty of opponents who say an obese child does not inherently signal parental indifference or abuse.
“It’s not the right way to address this problem,” said Ricardo Fontanet, president of a local chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, to El Nuevo Dia. “It’s going to bring more problems because there are children who are overweight due to underlying medical issues and genetic factors.”
Other opponents say it would be difficult to link obesity in a child to mistreatment or neglect by parents, and would result in injustice.
Nutritionist Milly Garcia objects to the measure, and views it as a superficial and futile way to address childhood obesity.
“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.”