Fines for child obesity are a bad idea, but...

"Puerto Rico doesn’t have the answer" is the headline of Morgan Downey’s recent post about an island proposal to fine parents whose children are obese. Worst idea ever, he says.

Right up front: I don’t want to fine parents of obese kids either. Bad idea, in every way. But the post has enough meat to chew on that it’s worth checking in anyway. Here’s Downey’s comment upon disclosing the idea:

"Oh, that will help! 'Parents: Starve your children and you save a few bucks!' Wow, what a deal! That will overcome the cries of hungry children.”

I’ll dispense with the dumb crap before getting to the worthwhile issue: Starvation? Cries of hungry children? Is there no middle ground between starvation and obesity? One doesn’t starve children into good health, any more than one does to overfeed, or poorly feed, or exercise no control over food choices.

Fines are a dumb idea, but behind it is the inescapable fact that parents have a responsibility to bring up their kids in health, and obesity implies ill health. Few parents are holding down their kids and force-feeding them Mickey D’s, but every parent is chiefly responsible first for how they’re fed, but then how their kids decide what to feed themselves.

Kids see whether we’re eating in or going out, and where we’re going. They see whether we’re cooking or doing takeout. They see when we indulge, how often, and with what. Just like the rest of the time, our choices and attitudes about eating are influencing our kids.

By the time parents would be fined for their children’s girth, the fine would help nothing and in many cases do damage. What bugs me about Downey’s piece is that while ridiculing the lawmakers, he makes not the slightest nod to parental influence on the sizes of their kids.

I doubt there is a governmental-control solution for making parents value nutrition, home-cooked food, and less processed food more than they do. But I’ve worked this much out: We each need to acknowledge that we do influence those around us, especially our children, and we each need to take responsibility for the choices we make while those choices matter.

I don’t think mocking attempts that seek to underscore these inescapable facts gets us any closer.

(Tomorrow: The overwhelming food environment.)

Author and wellness innovator Michael Prager helps smart companies
make investments in employee wellbeing that pay off in corporate success.
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