Imagine being fined $800 as a parent if you're child is deemed obese and you can't get them to lose weight. Sounds kind of crazy, right? That may become the reality in Puerto Rico, if a controversial bill that's currently in legislation passes.
According to Senator Gilberto Rodriguez Valle, the goal of the bill is to improve the long-term health and well-being of Puerto Rico's children—almost 30% of whom are currently classified as obese—and help their parents make healthier choices for their families.
So how would a law like this actually work? Supposedly, public school teachers will flag potentially obese students and make a referral to a social worker or counselor who would then pair the child's parents up with a health department official who will determine whether the obesity is caused by poor lifestyle choices or a medical reason. The same official would then help the parents come up with a diet and exercise plan, and follow-up with monthly visits.
If after six months no improvement has been made, the social worker will have the right to open up a child neglect case and fine the parents $500. If after a year no progress is made, another fine of $800 can be imposed.
Clearly not everyone is on board with this plan, with critics deeming it as "unfair" and "unbelievable." Dr Ricardo Fontanet, president of the Puerto Rico chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, is one such skeptic. Fontanet told the Guardian, "First, [they're] saying that if you have an obese child in the house, it's synonymous with child abuse, and that's completely wrong. You have to lose weight, sure, but to have the state coming to your home, looking at how you do things and charging you with child abuse is dangerous.
"Second, they're not involving pediatricians, nutritionists, dieticians [or] the people who prepare the lunches in schools in any of this. Teachers aren't trained to identify obese children; they don't have the time, the [faculties] or the knowledge. They're asking people with no knowledge of dealing with obesity to identify these patients."