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How NOT to Raise Healthy Kids in Puerto Rico

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I’m sitting here in disbelief after reading about a bill, proposed by Senator Gilberto Rodriguez of the enchanted island of Puerto Rico, where parents will face combined fines of up to $1,300 if their children are fat.

The bill calls for education officials to identify obese children and educate parents about its detriment on growth and health. If, after six months, education officials determine that the child’s condition has not improved, a staffer can refer the case to child-family services authorities as one involving abuse or mistreatment.

If after another six months the situation persists, the parents can be assessed up to $500 in fines.

Six months after that, if the problem continues, the parents can be fined an additional $800.

Um, WHAT?!!! Let’s go over the ways this is completely wrong.

#1 Weight and BMI are not indicators of current health or predictors of future health. However, according to Senator Luis Dalmal who defends the bill, it’s ALL about the numbers on a scale:

The obese child is a health problem that can become a financial burden because the child can develop diabetes, heart ailments and other diseases

Guess what, Senator? Thin children can have or develop those diseases as well. What do you propose to do for them?

#2 Teachers will be tasked with pointing out fat students and their parents. It’s bad enough that a lot of fat children are bullied. The bill would subject them to further stigma and shame by the people who are supposed to educate and encourage them. Not to mention the possibility of their parents being labeled as negligent or abusive along with the threat of being taken away from their home. How isn’t this damaging to a child’s mental health? Or doesn’t that matter so long as he/she is thin?

#3 There is a high unemployment rate in Puerto Rico and over 40% of its population live below the poverty line. Crime is rising and the streets are not safe for children to play. The cost of food, clothing and basic utilities are higher than in many states, even New York. So how do such fines make sense? Unless the goal is to make it more difficult for families to feed their children in a horribly misguided effort to make them lose weight.

#4 Parents may resort to putting their children on dangerous, calorie restrictive diets which is detrimental to growing bodies. Children will develop disordered relationships with food and possibly become anorexic or bulimic. How is that healthy?

#5 This isn’t about health but about aesthetics. Otherwise, why the focus on fat bodies when studies show that obesity is caused by many factors including genetics, environment and disease? Senators Rodriguez and Damal are clearly under the illusion that eating less and exercising more is the simple solution to what they perceive as a problem.

Fortunately many doctors in Puerto Rico, including Puerto Rico chapter president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, have called the proposed bill unfair and harmful and are arguing against its passing. Hopefully the government will listen. Instead of penalties, Puerto Rican families need more access to fresh, wholesome foods and safe places for children to play or engage in physical activities.

The proposed bill is absolute bullshit and not the way to improve the health of Puerto Rico’s children.

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