Parents of obese kids in Puerto Rico will face a fine of up to $800 if the legislature passes a bill currently being debated, according to a statement issued on Monday.
Though the bill seems punitive, senator Gilberto Rodríguez Valle says the goal is entirely positive. In a statement, he claimed the bill aims to improve children’s health and help parents boost the wellbeing of their entire family, underscoring that “the priority is the health of children, not fines.” Though this proposed legislation has fueled a fiery online debate about where responsibility falls in the case of childhood obesity, Rodriguez clearly states in the press release that the bill, if passed, would differentiate between cases of pre-existing conditions and those of poor diet and lack of exercise.
The four-phase plan would use teachers to identify children who potentially qualify as obese. The Department of Health gives parents of these children guidelines for improving dietary habits and monitoring potential health conditions. In the third phase, parents work with the Department of Health and Education to achieve healthy eating and exercise goals, with official check-ins every four weeks. After six months in the program, children enter the final phase, in which a social worker from the Department of Education gauges their progress and the necessity of a fine.
While the “Let’s Move” campaign is struggling to lower childhood obesity rates (the past five years have seen a mixed bag of results), the mainland U.S. still holds a considerably lower rate of childhood obesity than Puerto Rico, clocking in at 18 percent to the island’s 28 percent. Despite the growing concern this stat raises, several doctors have spoken out against the proposed program, labeling it unfair.