Illinois State Senator Shane Cultra offered up this idea for solving the childhood obesity epidemic: take state tax deductions away from parents whose kids are fat.
Many, many problems with this proposal, besides the fact that it’s insane. I mean, if it’s supposed to be an incentive, how can you get your kid skinny in a single tax year?
Also, where on the tax form would you even record your child’s Body Mass Index — next to their social security number?
Who will verify the kids’ BMI (especially, if like many obese kids, they are poor and can’t afford doctor’s visits)? What does a child’s weight have to do with a family’s income and tax rate? After being penalized one year, how can already low-income families of overweight kids afford better food and more time away from work for a mom-dad-kid group jog?
Cultra’s proposal was a stupid, stupid idea, a public demonstration of his own ignorance of the facts behind obesity. He wants to blame and punish parents. But for what? For stuffing hamburgers down their kids throats? Or being too poor to feed them fresh food and instead sending them to school where they can gorge on deep-fried French toast and sticky sweet syrup (cheap food the country buys from his state’s farmers and passes off on his state’s school children). Cultra’s proposal is yet another in a long line of steps toward “personal responsibility,” which is a way of saying society owes its children nothing and, hey, parents, you’re totally on your own.
After a video of Cultra making the proposal got international attention, he’s done some calorie-burning back-pedaling, saying it was tongue-in-cheek and taken out of context. You can see it here: he’s dead serious and pretty proud of his awesome idea.
So now we’re going to write weight-height ratios into our tax code? Great. Sen. Cultra, then you won’t mind my asking what your weight-height ratio is, right? And that of your children. And of the grandchildren you presumably have. Can you tell me not a single person in your family is, according to the chart, overweight or obese? In the state of Illinois, where at least one in four adults is overweight or obese, that’s a fair question to ask.
I don’t have a problem focusing on children’s health, but I do have a problem focusing only on weight. On children’s weight. Fat kids bear the burden of a society and environment that adults created. They’re the result of bad education, of several generations’ of cheap processed food, of bad food and agricultural policy. Of underfunding for schools and school lunch programs. Fat kids are the result of a society that prioritized streets over sidewalks, one that allows apartment complexes to forbid kids from playing outside. They’re the product of a country that grants corporations complete and unchecked access to their easy-to-manipulate, marketing unsavvy minds. These kids are the symptoms of a culture that tolerates low wages, expensive and inflexible childcare, and neighborhoods without grocery stores.
We’ve heard enough about fixing parents who don’t do enough for their child’s health. Let’s start hearing about a society that won’t either. Then we can talk about who to tax.
Photo: Sen. Cultra
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