Puerto Rico may start to fine parents of obese children

Legislators in Puerto Rico are considering putting the weight of obesity on parents by giving them a fine if their children are obese.

The Guardian reported that a Bill that would fine parents of obese children is currently being debated in the country where almost 30 per cent of the children are obese. The parents may be fined up to US$800 (S$1,085) if their children do not lose weight in six months.

The Bill aims to improve children's well-being and help parents make healthier choices, senator Gilberto Rodriguez said in a statement issued on Monday. Public hearings for the bill are scheduled to begin on Friday.

The plan, if the Bill is made law, is for public school teachers to flag out children who could be obese, and refer them to a counsellor or social worker, depending on the severity of the case. Health department officials in the country, which is a United States territory, would then meet with the parents and determine whether the obesity is a result of bad eating habits or a medical condition. They also would create a diet-and-exercise programme combined with monthly visits to ensure it is being followed.

After six months, officials would evaluate the child again, with parents possibly facing between US$500 and US$800 in fines if the situation does not improve within another six months to a year.

Several doctors including the president of Puerto Rico's chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics have spoken out against the measure, saying it is unfair, The Guardian reported.

jalmsab@sph.com.sg