Lawmakers in Puerto Rico are considering a bill that would fine parents of obese children. Parents could face fines of $500 to $800 if a child does not lose weight within a specified period.
In a statement released Monday, Gilberto Rodriguez, a local senator who sponsored the bill, says it aims to improve children’s well being and help parents make healthier choices, according to the Associated Press. Senator Rodriguez maintains there must be consequences for the growing and costly obesity problem in Puerto Rico.
If passed, the bill would allow public school teachers to flag potential obesity cases and refer those children to a counselor or social worker depending on the severity of the case. Health department officials would then meet with the parents to determine if the obesity is due to poor eating habits or a medical condition. Those same officials would then create a diet and exercise program for the child and follow-up with once a month visits to ensure the program is being followed.
After six months, officials will re-evaluate the child. If there is no improvement in the child’s condition, parents face a fine of $500 to $800, if the situation has not improved in another six months to one year.
Fining parents of obese kids is a controversial proposition and many doctors have already spoken out against the bill, including Ricardo Fontanet, the president of the Puerto Rico chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics.
“This is not the way to do it. This is going to bring complications because there are obese kids due to medical conditions and other genetic factors.”
Nutritionist Milly Garcia insists the government does not belong in private health issues, specifically obesity, because it is not a problem that stems from abuse.
“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.”
However, Senator Jose Luis Dalmau, who also supports the bill, insists obese children can be costly when considering potential health issues linked to obesity.
“That child is a health issue and can become an economic burden because he/she could develop heart disease, diabetes and other illnesses.”
The AP reports 28 percent of children in Puerto Rico are considered obese, compared with approximately 18 percent in the U.S. mainland.
Public hearings on the bill are scheduled to start Friday.
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