Children in San Juan, Puerto Rico

Proposal to Make Childhood Obesity Worse in Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico is now debating one of those childhood obesity proposals that leaves us scratching our heads. The idea is to punish the parents of children with obesity through fines that could add up to as much as $1300.

Like other bone-headed ideas, this proposal would put schools in charge of policing the weight of children. Under this scheme, teachers would identify children with obesity and refer the families to social service authorities to treat as potential cases of parental neglect. Insufficient improvement in the child’s weight after six months would mean a $500 fine, followed by an $800 fine after another six months without improvement.

Potential Ethical Problems with Obesity PoliciesWhat’s next? Obesity prisons?

For perspective, it’s worth reading a 2013 essay by Andrew Brown and David Allison on potential ethical problems with obesity-targeted policies.

Perhaps voices of reason will prevail. Nutritionist Millie Garcia aptly described the proposal as superficial and useless:

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.

Likewise, President Ricardo Fontanet of the Puerto Rican Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics said:

It’s not the right way to address this problem. It’s going to bring more problems because there are children who are overweight due to underlying medical issues and genetic factors.

Of course, the biggest irony is the notion of imposing financial penalties on a condition that hurts people financially. It already disproportionately affects people with limited financial resources. In fact, financial stress appears to be a factor that complicates obesity.

Finding an idea that is more wrong in more ways would be a challenge.

Click here to read more from NPR, here to read more from the Washington Post, and here to read more from El Nuevo Dia.

Children in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Photograph © Ricymar Photography/ flickr

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