Lawmakers in Puerto Rico have introduced a controversial measure that could punish the parents of obese children.
The proposed bill would see public school teachers identify potential obesity cases, with Health Department officials then meeting with the parents to determine the cause of the condition.
With a monthly diet and exercise program prescribed, parents could face fines topping $1,000 if follow-up evaluations don’t show marked improvement within six months to a year.
More than 28 per cent of children in Puerto Rico are considered obese, compared with 25 per cent of Australian children who are classified as overweight or obese.
At the current rate, it is predicted that 65 per cent of young Australians will be overweight or obese by 2020.
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The Associated Press reports that Sen. Gilberto Rodriguez, one of the bill's sponsors says the program aims to "improve children's wellbeing and help parents make healthier choices."
The proposal, which is being debated in various public forums, has plenty of opponents who say an obese child does not inherently signal parental indifference or abuse.
“It’s not the right way to address this problem,” said Ricardo Fontanet, president of a local chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, to El Nuevo Dia. “It’s going to bring more problems because there are children who are overweight due to underlying medical issues and genetic factors.”
A similar program is currently creating controversy in Palm Beach, Florida where a mother has accused health officials of fat shaming her daughter after a Body Mass Index (BMI) test from the school nurse prompted a letter to be sent home suggesting the child see a GP.
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Closer to home, The Consumers Health Forum, Heart Foundation, Obesity Policy Coalition and Public Health Association of Australia believe a sugary drink tax would improve childhood health and help stem the cost of obesity, which is estimated at $56bn a year.
Public hearings for the Puerto Rican bill are scheduled to begin Saturday, Australian time.