Fined for having an obese child?
The figures are overwhelming. According to data from 2012, the child obesity rate in Puerto Rico stood at 28.4 percent –increasing almost an entire point compared with 2012, which at that time stood at 17.5 percent. We mustn’t, therefore, be surprised that this situation is considered by many –citizens, physicians and politicians alike—as a public health issue that must be urgently solved. And that is precisely what Senator Gilberto Rodríguez Valle proposes to do with his latest action, a bill that, in broad terms, proposes establishing fines for parents whose children are obese.
The original format of the Bill submitted by the Puerto Rican Senator proposes controls to be performed by the US Department of Education with which to identify those cases of greatest risk, as long as they are not due to preexisting health problems, as well as instructing parents on how to combat and put an end to their child’s obesity. After this first contact, if after six months the agency considers that the problem has not been solved, a social worker may submit the case to the Department of Families, where, if no improvement to the child’s health condition occurs after six months, the legal custodians of the child will be fined $500. And, if another six months go by and the situation does not improve, the institution could mandate the payment of another $800.
A proposal that, far from being welcomed among the population, has not only generated enormous controversy, but has also travelled around the world, even forcing Rodríguez Valle, in an appearance before the media, to announce his idea to review the terms of his action. The most critical voices of that proposed by the Puerto Rican Senator appeared swiftly. “It is not the correct way to do this. It will produce complications because there are many kids who are obsess due to medical complication and genetic factors”, explained Ricardo Fontanet, local president of the American Pediatrics Academy, in statements to El Nuevo Día. While others, such as the Dean of the Faculty of Law at Universidad Interamericana, Julio Fontánez, also questions its effectiveness, its legal approach. “The fundamental problem it (the action) has is that if economic penalties are involved, the State must prove that the father intentionally or negligently, incurred in child abuse. Then, the question is, does having obese children mean that the father or mother have incurred in child abuse?”
Though some have applauded the Bill presented by Rodríguez Valle, among them Senator José Luis Dalmau, arguing that an obese child “is a health issue and can become a financial burden because he could develop heart disease, diabetes and other illness”, sentencing that “consequences must be established for the parents of obese children”.