Puerto Rico is considering an extreme response to childhood obesity: a fat tax. Sen. Gilberto Rodríguez Valle has introduced a bill to fine parents of obese children as a form of neglect. The bill suggests that fines would be imposed when the obesity is viewed as a form of neglect though that can be a very difficult line to discern.
Sen. Jose Luis Dalmau defended the fine as “necessary for society” and said that “Here in ‘La Isla del Encanto’ there are no consequences, . . . The obese child is a health problem that can become a financial burden because the child can develop diabetes, heart ailments and other diseases.”
There is little disagreement over the crisis with obesity generally or the harmful effects of obesity. However, the bill would have education officials to identify obese children and confront parents. If there is no improvement in six months, the child would be referred to child-family services authorities as one involving abuse or mistreatment. After six month, the parents would be subject to up to $500 in fines that would increase after another six months to $800.
Child advocates and health professionals oppose the bill because of the underlying medical issues and genetic factors. However, the politicians want to convert this health and parental issue into a legal one.
I understand the motivation given the harmful effect on these children and the fact that some parents continue to supply high-fat diets to children, particularly from fast-food establishments. There can be no serious debate over officials raising the issue with parents and seeking to educate them on options or approaches. However, the threat of a fine seems unlikely to be the type of motivation that will make a difference. It will also hit lower income families more severely since obesity has been shown in higher percentages in lower income brackets. Finally, the line between familial habits and genetic dispositions is difficult for experts to discern. It will be even more difficult for educational or child welfare officials to discern.
What do you think?