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Proposed Bill In Puerto Rico Could Fine Parents Of Obese Children

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (CBSNewYork/AP) -- A Bill under consideration by legislators in Puerto Rico would issue a fine of up to $800 to parents of obese children if they don't lose weight.

According to Sen. Gilberto Rodriguez, the measure aims to improve children's well-being and help parents make healthier choices.

Under the bill, public school teachers would be required to flag potential obesity cases.

Officials from the Health Department would then follow up with parents, establish whether the child's obesity is a result of bad eating habits or a medical condition, and help create a diet-and-exercise program with the family.

The child would be evaluated again after six months and if their condition does not improve within another six months to a year, parents could possibly face fines between $500 and $800.

More than 28 percent of Puerto Rico's children are considered clinically obese, compared with about 18 percent in the U.S. mainland.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control defines childhood obesity as having a body mass index above the 95th percentile for children of the same age and sex.

Several doctors, including the president of Puerto Rico's chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, have spoken out against the measure, calling it unfair.

And stateside pediatrician Dr. Laura Popper agrees, saying its a plan that won't work and could result in riots, CBS2's Emily Smith reported.

"It's about the stupidest thing I've heard in a long time," said Dr. Popper. "There's no way things like that kind of punishment works."

But proponents of the plan argue obesity creates a financial burden because the child can develop diabetes, heart issues and other diseases.

Pediatricians say states such as New York are finding success without fines, by actions like swapping water for soda in schools.

Dr. Popper said despite Puerto Rico's obesity being about 10 percent higher than the rest of the country, a punitive approach isn't the way to help reduce weight in children. It has to be a family decision.

"My recommendation is the whole family has to change the way they eat," she said.

Issuing fines, experts say, not only shames a family, but infringes on privacy rights.

If passed, the money collected from the fines would be used to fund an anti-obesity initiative.

(TM and © Copyright 2015 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2015 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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