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Illinois State Rep Has a Really Bad Idea

After that long, serious post yesterday, I was looking forward to putting something more positive on the front page today. Specifically, I was going to link to Pattie Thomas's No Diet Day post on the Psychology Today blog. It's an uplifting story about how giving up dieting improved her life.

Unfortunately, Illinois State Representative Shane Cultra (R-Onarga) thinks it would be a good idea to take away the standard $2000 state child tax deduction for children who have been classified as "obese," and I feel like I should really let everyone know about that.

There's an article about it on, an on-line St. Louis paper: Illinois Lawmaker Says Raising Obese Kids Should Cost Parents at Tax Time

Let's take a look at this from a public policy perspective.

For those who aren't familiar with the US tax system, child tax deductions are normally offered to all parents as an incentive to raise children. They keep more money in families and help out a little with the extra expenses that are involved in being a parent. The child tax deduction tells parents,

"The work that you're doing raising your children is important to our state and our nation! Yay, you for taking it on. Good job. And here, we acknowledge that raising kids costs a lot and we'll help you out a bit. Your children are important, and we're happy to have these valuable new citizens!"

Representative Cultra doesn't want to send that message to parents with fat kids, though. He'd like to send them this message instead:

"You're either a bad parent or you have genetic traits that we don't want to see passed on. Either way, we wish that you hadn't had those kids. They're not the kind of people we want, and if you insist on having them, we're not going to support that in any way. Please don't reproduce. Oh, but since I'm a Republican I'd also like to make sure that you don't have access to birth control or abortion. So don't have sex. Thanks."

Also, "Is your child a high school dropout who regularly gets in trouble with the police? Here's your $2000 tax deduction! Is your kid an honor student and athlete with a large build? No money 4 U."

How does this measure up when you think about social equity?

Well, considering the fact that poor people and ethnic minorities are most likely to be "obese," it's pretty much a disaster. Differences in build are mostly heriditary, the parents of children who are classified as obese are most likely heavier than average themselves. They'll already be dealing with size discrimination that could result in a lower income, and there's a better than average chance that they're dealing with other types as bias as well.

It's a regressive tax and if a family is having trouble paying for healthy food and active hobbies as it is, then it's going to make that even worse. It's just more of the same: bailing out the bankers and insurance companies on the backs of poor people and minorities. Lovely.

Finally, what sort of impact would this likely have on individual families?

Obviously, Mr. Cultra thinks that it will result in more responsible parenting. However, it's hard to see how that would actually be promoted by this tax disincentive. Aside from the financial hit, which would make it harder to keep the children in healthy food and physical activity, it has the potential to turn parents against their children. Almost inevitably, I'm seeing conflicts over food; efforts to restrict and sneaking and bingeing happening in retaliation. But it could be worse than that. In some cases, unfortunately, physical abuse could result.

Seriously, could it be any stupider an idea?

If you live in Illinois, please let your governor and state representatives know what you think about this. Snail mail and e-mail contact information for the Illinois governor's office is here. Let's write him and ask him not to sign any bill that contains this provision into law.

Details and contact information for members of the Illinois House of Representatives are here and information for Illinois Senate members is here. The information is given by district, and if you live in Illinois, you can find out who your state representatives are by using these maps. Contacting your state representatives is always a good idea, because they're the people most likely to respond to your individual concerns.

Let's nip this one in the bud.

Fat Kids Libelled | Study: Being Fit and Fat isn't Rare

richie79's picture
May 11th, 2011 | Link | Dark times indeed.

Dark times indeed. Essentially this is a method of fining people for having fat children and criminalisation of so-called child obesity in all but name; widespread compulsion to slim can't be far away now. Given how many parents of fat children are not exactly supportive or understanding as things stand, I suspect the fears about parental resentment at being socially and now financially penalised manifesting itself as conflict, emotional and even physical abuse of the children deemed 'to blame' are well-founded. And as with other forms of abuse and mistreatment of fat people, these consequences will either be defended as 'social pressure' which play a critical role in denormalising obesity, or (more likely) downplayed, glossed over and those raising them as concerns ridiculed and sidelined.

It would appear that, emboldened by the sudden preoccupation with fat people at the highest levels of Government, state and local politicians have followed suit in declaring open season on us. And why wouldn't they when there's votes to be won? The electorate have been systematically indoctrinated by the increasingly extremist claims of a powerful anti-obesity lobby to consider fat people a pariah class and genuine social threat demanding suitably uncompromising action (or more importantly, the illusion of it). And politicans of all stripes have always revelled in exploiting prejudice, setting 'us' against 'them' to rule through division. I suspect there is no more evidence to suggest that tax and welfare penalties 'succeed' in making people thinner than soda taxes, calorie counts on menus, campaigns in schools and all the rest, not that this will stop the bill going forward, or at best put back in the box labelled 'Too Soon' for later resurrection.

As you say the message repeatedly being sent out is that whether adult or child, all manner of other negative behaviours and their associated social and individual 'harms' pale into insignificance compared to that of being fat, and as such no punishment is too severe for this most heinous of transgressions. My wife and I used to think that maybe with its written constitution and more diverse and libertarian political landscape, people in the US might offer more resistance to some of the more extreme suggestions for the elimination of 'the obese' proposed under the previous British government. The realisation that even a pair of eternal pessimists such as ourselves ended up being hopelessly deluded on this one makes me wonder where all this will end - not well, I fear.

ETA: According to the stltoday website, Cultra has now issued a statement of 'regret' on his choice of words, stating that whilst he remains committed to reducing childhood obesity, he doesn't consider a flat sin tax the way to accomplish it (funny, since I read his original comments as being supportive of more targetted measures than the blanket levies proposed within Bill 396). The balance of the 80-odd comments on the article is for once refreshingly critical with some warning of the likely effect on fat people and others taking a more general libertarian line.

"What is right is not always popular and what is popular is not always right" - Albert Einstein

Bree's picture
May 11th, 2011 | Link | Republicans keep saying they

Republicans keep saying they want smaller government but apparently, if you are not white, rich, a Christian radical, a childbearing woman or anything else they deem unworthy, they want to control your life.

Beanietude's picture
May 11th, 2011 | Link | On top of the

On top of the racial/disability/Big Brother issues, I can't see how this bill could be implemented in any practical way. A big database of every child's BMI would be needed, which would require even more bureaucracy than there already is for collection and storage and correlation to tax returns. Even if the idea is that this data would be obtained at school, what about home-schooled kids? Would they be required to check in with "approved" medical providers? Any medical dispensations? Medical personnel don't come cheap!

The motivation behind this plan, both overt and covert, makes my blood boil and I do think everyone should write/email the appropriate authority to express their disgust with the proposal. But keep an eye out for the slightly more palatable Plan B that's sure to follow, 'cos I just don't see Plan A as being practical.

pani113's picture
May 11th, 2011 | Link | If you go back to the

If you go back to the article, at the top of the page they provide a quote by him saying he was tongue in cheek and it never meant to be serious. His bio also says his college degree is in landscaping or some such thing. I am almost disappointed. This is so barbaric that even the liberal fatphobes might have to examine how contributing to hysteria might lead to this type of outcome!

"Fat can be beautiful. Intolerance is ALWAYS ugly!"

DeeLeigh's picture
May 12th, 2011 | Link | Ha! You're right. He

Ha! You're right. He backed down. Hilarious.
Easy win! Yay us and everyone else who was talking sense.

chondros May 11th, 2011 | Link | Based on the video they link

Based on the video they link to, it doesn't sound to me like the guy was joking. But he does appear to be backing off as fast as he can go. I'm actually pretty pleased by the general reaction on the internet, which seems to have ranged from ridicule to denunciation. Maybe there's a little sanity left, after all. On the other hand, I found plenty of commenters on various web sites who supported Cultra. Ugh.

TigerHawk310 May 11th, 2011 | Link | The anti-GOP sniping is counterproductive

It may be an idiot Republican pushing this, but if you follow the links in the article, you'll find the left-wing New York Times and Daily Mail commentariat supporting, and Rush Limbaugh in opposition. And on the forums, vesta posts:

"And the Democrats come in for their fair share of blame here, as they don't have the guts to stand up to the Republicans and tell them to eat shit and bark at the moon and stand up for women/children/fat people/anyone who's marginalized."

Half the time, it's the Democrats doing the marginalization. Jamie Oliver and Michelle Obama aren't right wingers. Cass Sunstein's "nudge" movement is left-wing, not right. The New York assemblyman pushing the Happy Meal ban was a Democrat, and San Francisco's Happy Meal ban didn't come from the maybe 1 Republican on their city council. Fat hatred is bipartisan, sadly.

Republican leaders have generally tended to oppose laws like this--not so much out of fat acceptance, but out of an aversion to government regulation. But that's not a debate I want to start--I just want to point out that turning fat acceptance into a partisan issue is remarkably short-sided, given that we're pretty marginal on both sides of the aisle. And left-wing smearing is a good way to chase right-wingers like me off the board.

DeeLeigh's picture
May 12th, 2011 | Link | Tigerhawk, you're absolutely

Tigerhawk, you're absolutely right when you say that fat people are under attack from both sides of the aisle. If anything, the Republicians are less prone to come up with proposals that would hurt fat people, as you say. However, their position on abortion (and birth control, it would seem) is in direct opposition to their general "less government interference in people's lives" philosophy and as such, I reserve the right to make disparaging remarks about it.

Oh, and the proposal above? Total attempt at social engineering, in the worst sense, as you say. I hope his republican colleagues gave him hell about that.

Meowzer May 12th, 2011 | Link | I would debate whether or

I would debate whether or not U.S. Democrats, as presently constituted (particularly those holding elective office), are categorically "progressive" or "left-wing." Most really are pretty conservative, when you get right down to it, the Obamas included. "Anti-obesity" initiatives from either side of the aisle are basically marketing opportunities for Big Food/Big Diet/Big Pharma; it's hard for me to think of elected Democrats who are truly interested in changing the distribution of resources across the population that would be necessary to improve the health of financially insecure people. Most of them know that if they did step forward for such things, and went to the wall to try to make it happen, their careers would be over.

DeeLeigh's picture
May 12th, 2011 | Link | Having lived in three

Having lived in three countries in the last ten years, I can confirm that the entire US political system is way over to the right of the rest of the western world. I'm never sure what context I should be speaking in, though. I'm American and I know that "progressive" means something different there than it does elsewhere. It's all relative. I'm considered liberal in the US (and some of my cousins think that the fact I'm in favor of public health care makes me a socialist). In Canada, I'm pretty average. In the UK, I'm probably right of centre.

Meowzer May 11th, 2011 | Link | Oh, but since I'm a

Oh, but since I'm a Republican I'd also like to make sure that you don't have access to birth control or abortion. So don't have sex.

And don't get raped either! Not that we think there's any such thing, but if you don't want people forcing themselves on you, don't leave the house. Except that rapists can break into your house if they know you're home. So don't stay home, either. In fact, just don't have ladybits at all, that will solve everything.

More responsible parenting, huh? I guess parents of "normal weight" kids with bulimia don't get fined under this scenario, so you'd probably be dealing with the spectre of parents actually WANTING their kids to take up puking in order to save a few bucks. Oh yeah, and less money for high-quality groceries, too. (Surely Rep. Assclown knows that if generic soda is cheaper than broccoli, the broccoli's going to be what gets cut out of the meal if there's a budget shortage.) What's not to love about this?

rebelle May 13th, 2011 | Link | LOL, Meowzer! (On the "don't

LOL, Meowzer! (On the "don't get raped" bit and "Rep. Assclown.") LOL. Laughing out loud

chondros May 11th, 2011 | Link | I just want to point out

I just want to point out that turning fat acceptance into a partisan issue is remarkably short-sided, given that we're pretty marginal on both sides of the aisle.

Total agreement here. I think people who really believe in FA need to realize that their "side," whichever it might be, is probably not with them on this. The Republicans' libertarian leanings may moderate some forms of government persecution, and the Democrats' instincts for social justice may call attention to the ways in which society treats fat people unfairly, but it's just foolish for us to think that we can make progress by confusing our important but unpopular cause with a particular party or ideology.

DeeLeigh's picture
May 12th, 2011 | Link | Absolutely. We need to

Absolutely. We need to approach the Democrats from the social justice perspective and the Republicans using civil libertarian language.

What about the UK, though? The BBC seems to be a big part of the problem here. I wonder what's fueling that?

BigLiberty's picture
May 12th, 2011 | Link | I like your two-pronged

I like your two-pronged approach, DeeLeigh. I haven't seen it as succinctly put anywhere else. This works very well for me because about 50% of my friends and family consider themselves "right" of center, and about 50% are "left" of center. The sizism's all over the board, of course. Being a libertarian (well, anarchist really) allows me to use the 'freedom' argument with nearly everyone in a successful way. For those left-of-center, "freedom" often means equality, freedom from marginalization, and freedom of opportunity, and for those right-of-center "freedom" often means a dearth of regulation, nannying, taxation, and other mandated behavior. Since sizism increases marginalization, limits opportunity, and often imposes regulation, nannying, and taxation, there's a flavor for every taste, as it were.

chondros May 12th, 2011 | Link | What about the UK, though?

What about the UK, though? The BBC seems to be a big part of the problem here. I wonder what's fueling that?

I'm having trouble connecting this question to what I wrote. I certainly don't mean to say that FA doesn't have to reckon with politics, government, mass media, etc. I just mean that we shouldn't do it from a partisan perspective. I think the fact that anti-fat rhetoric is so rampant in other countries is evidence for its *not* being centered in a particular party or ideology.

DeeLeigh's picture
May 12th, 2011 | Link | Chondros, I was just

Chondros, I was just agreeing with you and adding some thoughts. Some of those thoughts didn't have anything to do with your comment.

pani113's picture
May 12th, 2011 | Link | Sadly this is not a joke.

Sadly this is not a joke. San Antonio schools will have cameras in the cafeteria that capture what kids eat, then report back to their parents. Disgusting when it is hard to tell the difference between reality and satire!

"Fat can be beautiful. Intolerance is ALWAYS ugly!"

moxie3's picture
May 12th, 2011 | Link | That is totally sick!

That is totally sick!

richie79's picture
May 13th, 2011 | Link | Disgusting, but not in the

Disgusting, but not in the least surprising. Here in the UK schools have been using smart-card and biometric fingerprint technology to monitor students' mealtime choices (and even sending warning letters home to parents where an identified pattern of preference for less 'healthy' options is identified) for some years, and indeed the sudden policy obsession with anti-obesity initiatives and schemes in the US seems very much to be modelled on the wave of similarly bizarre and problematic 'initiatives' which swept this country under the last government.

"What is right is not always popular and what is popular is not always right" - Albert Einstein

DeeLeigh's picture
May 14th, 2011 | Link | That's insane, Richie.

That's beyond insane, Richie. I had no idea. Is that UK-wide or is it just a local thing somewhere?

richie79's picture
May 14th, 2011 | Link | At present it seems to be a

At present it seems to be a local thing implemented by individual schools and / or education authorities. It was being trialled in London as early as 2005, with 'fighting obesity' as the main objective, and since then has been rolled out on a piecemeal basis across the UK. It's also happening in Australia and yes, the US too.

This piece from a US supplier of monitoring systems explains how they work. Apart from the healthy eating side, other claimed 'advantages' of applying it to lunch are that it speeds up cafeteria lines, avoids the need for students to carry cash (which can be stolen or, God forbid, spent in fast food takeaways) and erases the distinction between those claiming free school meals and their wealthier peers (because whilst fat stigma is now considered a good thing, income / class stigma is not). Similar systems (fingerprint pads / swipe cards linked to back-end databases) are also being used, not without controversy, to monitor library loans and attendance.

"What is right is not always popular and what is popular is not always right" - Albert Einstein

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