Lawmakers in Puerto Rico have proposed legislation to fine parents who have children with obesity. The children would be monitored by officials in the school systems. Parents of children above a certain BMI would be given six months to improve the health of the child. If there is no improvement after the initial six months, a staff member will be assigned to the case. This may result in a plan being developed for the child, including diet and exercise. There is also an option of the family being reported to family services for abuse or mistreatment. An additional six months is then given. If the child’s health has not improved, the parents would face a $500 fine. After another six months, the fine increases to an additional $800.
In my opinion, this is a fantastic step in the right direction, but not a perfect solution. I think it’s wonderful that Puerto Rico has determined that a major cause of weight-gain among children lies in the decisions a parent makes. In America, we seem to take a “it’s not me, it’s you” stance in childhood obesity. America has pinned the childhood obesity epidemic on soda, nutrition of school lunch, cost of healthy foods, and the fast-food industry. But – what do all of those scapegoats have in common? Parents. The problem isn’t McDonald’s, the problem is the parent that takes their child to McDonald’s for a meal. The problem isn’t soda, the problem is that parents send their children with money to buy that soda in the cafeteria. The problem isn’t school lunch nutrition, the problem is parents that don’t take time to prepare a healthy lunch for their child to bring to school. (Side note: I understand that not everyone can afford to bring lunch from home or buy a lunch at school, so free lunches are provided, and I agree that the schools should provide healthier meals to students.) And also, maybe, just maybe, school systems could stop cutting gym and recess from curriculums every time they revamp the budgets. There’s an idea…get kids to move and away from computer screens! Oh, and screen-based activities. Parents need to limit how many hours a day their children spend sitting in front of tablets/laptops/televisions/smartphones/Kindles/etc. and have them use their bodies and imaginations. Simply put…parents need to learn to “just say no” to their children and not give in to every want and desire they have. Parenting takes thought, and too often this is ignored in favor of the easy answer that makes a kid happy and not cry and whine.
So yes, I find that parents can be to blame for a lot of causes of childhood obesity. But, as science has proven, the disease of obesity isn’t just about one’s diet and activity level. There are many factors that can cause obesity. I won’t get into them all here, but I want to point out one. I hope that if Puerto Rico passes this legislation, they take these other factors into consideration and don’t fine parents of children that have such cases. For example, what if the child has primary lymphedema? Primary lymphedema (or Milroy’s Disease) is a condition where there is an abnormal buildup of lymph fluid in the tissues caused by a faulty lymph system. This results in swelling of the extremities. This swelling often can be misdiagnosed as obesity. Hopefully staffers will be trained in the signs of this and will know that it can’t be treated in the same manner as obesity.
I think that if a punishment is to be handed to parents, it should be in the form of mandatory education, not a financial setback.. I don’t know if putting a financial strain on parents is the best method to combat childhood obesity, but it definitely is aiming at one of the targets that can cause it.