Puerto Rico lawmakers want to levy fines against the parents of obese children - and they want teachers to help them do it.
A bill introduced this week in the senate by Gilberto Rodríguez Valle, a member of the Popular Democratic Party, asks educators to identify overweight children and work with their parents to help them lose weight. If the kids fail to slim down after six months, education officials would be able to forward the case to health services, which could fine parents between $500 and $800.
The controversial bill has been met with resistance from nutritionists and doctors, who told Puerto Rico's El Nuevo Dia that some children are overweight because of genetic or medical issues. They also worried that the bill seems to accuse parents of mistreatment simply because their children are obese.
One thing is clear, however. Puerto Rico is facing a serious childhood obesity problem.
Nearly 30 percent of children on the island are considered obese compared with fewer than 20 percent of kids in the mainland United States, The Associated Press reported. About two-thirds of adults in Puerto Rico are considered overweight or obese, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.
But poverty might be the real issue. Numerous studies, including one by the Mayo Clinic, have linked poverty to high rates of obesity in the U.S. Unhealthy food tends to be the cheapest food, and, while it's high in calories, it's also not very filling, meaning people eat a lot of it.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, nearly 45 percent of Puerto Ricans live below the poverty line, more than double the poverty rate in most U.S. states. Even as the broader U.S. economy rebounds, Puerto Rico continues to struggle with high unemployment and crime, and young people are fleeing the island in search of jobs elsewhere.
But the idea that imposing a fine on parents, many of whom are likely to be poor, to reduce childhood obesity without doing more to reverse the major factors that cause it seems misguided.
Emily DeRuy is a Washington, D.C.-based associate editor, covering education, reproductive rights, and inequality. A San Francisco native, she enjoys Giants baseball and misses Philz terribly.