Home Health and Health Care Revered Obesity Expert: “Obese Children Should Be Removed From Homes”

Revered Obesity Expert: “Obese Children Should Be Removed From Homes”

by Erika Nicole Kendall

Here we go again:

Harvard University child obesity expert Dr. David Ludwig’s recent claim that some parents should lose custody of their severely obese children has sparked outrage among families and professionals across the country.

The national outcry led one family to share how its personal experience with the matter damaged their lives.

Ludwig, an obesity expert at Children’s Hospital Boston and associate professor at the Harvard School of Public Health, shared his divisive idea in an opinion piece that ran in the Journal of the American Medical Association Wednesday: that state intervention can serve in the best interest of extremely obese children, of which there’re about 2 million across the United States.

“In severe instances of childhood obesity, removal from the home may be justifiable, from a legal standpoint, because of imminent health risks and the parents’ chronic failure to address medical problems,” Ludwig co-wrote with Lindsey Murtagh, a lawyer and researcher at Harvard’s School of Public Health.

The topic has quickly generated controversy, and the majority of experts contacted by ABC News disagreed with Ludwig and Murtagh’s ideas.

Dr. David Katz, founder of the Yale Prevention Center, said that there was no evidence that the state would do a better job of feeding children than their parents.

Dr. David Orentlicher, co-director of Hall Center for Law and Health at Indiana University of School Law, also disagreed, saying that based on past instances, child protective service agencies might be far too quick to place overweight children in foster care.

Mind you, I’m the mother of a little girl who “exercises” around the house and, afterwords, asks you to “touch her muscles!” That being said, I’m also a mother who was pretty overweight as a child. Looking back on what my life was like, the only difference between my mother and I was the fact that she wasn’t overweight. She ate the exact same way I did.

Let me backtrack. I know who David Ludwig is, and he gets my respect. Do I understand where he’s coming from? Absolutely. Parents who display an unwillingness to do what needs to be done for their child – be it food, adequate shelter, etc – need to be assessed. However… I feel like there’s a part of this that he’s missing, simply because of the phrase “In severe instances of childhood obesity, removal from the home may be justifiable, from a legal standpoint, because of imminent health risks and the parents’ chronic failure to address medical problems,” here.

I’ve said this before:

in a lot of cases, the kids are overweight because the parents are overweight, as well. No parent [who takes proper care of their child regardless of weight issues] intentionally wants to jeopardize their child’s livelihood. In a lot of cases, the child’s weight is a mirror of the weight of the parents, and is simply living out the consequences of the parents’ behavior. It’s not an issue of abuse, unless you want to say that the parents are abusing themselves, as well. (And if you were to say that, I’d implore you to remember – it’s very rare that people even acknowledge sugar/food addiction as a legitimate addiction at all, so you’d be hard pressed to get anyone to understand that.)

And you know what? I amend that. The parent doesn’t have to be overweight at all. The parent simply has to believe that “the key to weight loss” is a matter of will power, or that you can have “everything in moderation,” or any other of the foolish marketing slogans we hear every single day. That’s enough to make a parent decide that, no, they don’t have to change the food that’s available in the house; no, there’s no problem with how they live at all. The problem is simply their child’s ability to control themselves… they’ve got no will power. If following the typical weight loss advice can leave us with a 60% obese population, surely it’d leave our children in equally dire straits.

There’s also the matter of leaving our children in the hands of our government. Suppose we did agree to this. Is there any evidence that the government knows how to feed our children? Have you looked at a school lunch program near you?

I didn’t think so.

For Ludwig to be so connected to Robert Lustig, whose work on sugar is easily a cult classic on the Internet and has been chronicled on this blog, and not know about sugar, its harmful effects and how prevalent it is in our current food supply is amazing. For him to be an expert on obesity and have, seemingly, no desire to acknowledge food addiction… is mind-boggling. To not know of these things, yet suggest something so drastic as removing children from their homes… well, it leaves me sad about the state of our country’s knowledge of food and their bodies.

As I said before,

…and really, that’s my point. Removing a child from a home that has the potential to be much healthier with a little bit of education is ludicrous. If you’re going to reach into someone’s home, let it be to offer a hand of support and resource. It’s much more likely that the whole family could use the help, so if we’re going to intervene, that’s the way to do it. If you remove a child from the home and place them in foster care, I’m assuming we’re putting them in a home that’s already been educated on how to care for the child? I’m assuming each of these homes has been taught weight maintenance procedures? Why not simply teach the child in the comfort of their own home and family on how to handle these issues?


Source: Childhood Obesity: A Call For Parents To Lose Custody

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Danielle July 15, 2011 - 9:46 AM

Is this a joke?
So we live in a society where we are given incorrect nutritional information, Big Agribusiness/food corporations can LIE in the name of capitalism and when we SEE THE FRUITS OF THIS in our kids they ought to be taken away?

Curlstar July 15, 2011 - 1:10 PM

I completely agree with you Erika, in many cases, the whole family would benefit from EDUCATION on food. Taking a child from the home could cause more problems, especially if that child regularly turns to food for comfort.

Anita July 15, 2011 - 1:16 PM

I am usually a lurker, but this subject upsets me so much, I have to post (love your blog by the way)
I heard about this over the radio yesterday. Childhood obesity is a serious issue that needs to be addressed, but taking a child from his/her parents because (s)he’s obese is completely wrong. When I heard about this, the first thought I had was of my older half sister. She has a disorder called Lipedema that it appears was inherited from her father’s side of the family (lipedema is a mostly inherited disorder in which fat deposits below the waist and cannot be removed by diet or exercise, sometimes the lymphatic system is affected and it is called lymphedema). Her whole life she has been morbidly obese and has had to endure ridicule from people including doctors (when she was a child, one doctor told her to stop eating for a month so she would lose weight). No one knew of her disorder until she was in her late 30s and had gastric bypass (she was well over 500lbs and lost very little weight after her bypass which prompted her doctor to send her to a specialist). Other than compression bandages, there is not much that can be done and she has to deal with the constant pain and health problems that her disorder causes. If it were up to Dr. Ludwig, my sister would have been taken from me and my mother as a child for something that took her doctors nearly 40 years to diagnose.

JoAnna July 15, 2011 - 3:06 PM

I was in my doctor’s waiting room during my last visit listening to 4 other Type II diabetic patients complain about their symptoms, and their aches and pains while munching on day-glo colored “drank”, chips and candy. Two of the women were debating the how to make the best mac and cheese for the weekend. One older very obese man was so out of shape that he had gotten dizzy after walking 4 blocks from the bus stop to the clinic. He said he couldn’t wait to get home and rest ’cause this was too much exercise for the week. When I pulled out a peach to eat and one of the women asked me if I was on a diet!

Until people recognize the connection between what they put in their mouths, and how much daily exercise they get translates into how healthy their bodies will be, nothing will change. One woman said she had 4 children, and ran out of insulin 2 weeks ago, but was too busy to stop in and get another prescription from the doctor until she noticed her feet hurting and swelling up. How do you get thru to a woman about healthier nutrition for herself and her family if she couldn’t take time to get her DAILY required insulin until her her feet swole up too much to fit in her shoes? There has to be some type of epiphany, some mental “cliff” before change occurs or is even followed.

I doubt removing children from their homes will be sucessful. Educating families about eating more fresh fruits and vegetables and whole grains and less processed food is a start. Classes showing families how to cook whole grains and vegetables into tasty meals is another. Changing the mindset from “Instant” or “5 minute meals!” to home-cooked slow food is another way. Change is hard. But it’s better than breaking up families.

werknprogress July 15, 2011 - 10:40 PM

yes, yes, yes and yes to all of the above post. I was going to blog about this but felt the subject is too heavy and I try to keep things light. This has been a topic of bbq, and salon topics for years. People say things like”thats just child abuse” when you see a kid morbidly obese. I have always maintained that 1. if you see a morbidly obese kid chances are his/her whole family are built the same. 2. they just don’t know how to do any better. We can’t just be “on a diet” all of our lives. We are inundated with lies about diet and nutrition. What is healthy what is not. There are more fad diets than there are toilet paper brands. Having lost 75lbs myself, I can tell you that I am still confused and trying to figure this whole thing out. oh and not to mention that we have become so materialistic that both parents are usually forced to work leaving the kid to fend for him/herself. There are so many factors that are involved that you can’t just simply take kids away from parents. The addiction that so called experts have yet to acknowledge is a huge problem. The grocery stores are setting us up for failure. Some neighborhoods don’t even have a good fresh produce department. We typically eat what our parents ate because that is what we know. It is by the grace of GOD that my kids aren’t obese. There should be more emphasis on solving the problem as opposed to creating more problems.

Heli July 23, 2011 - 12:07 AM

I have mixed feelings about this. An obese child is being saddled with health problems that will be with him/her for life, and that life may very well be shortened by 10, 20, 30 years due in part to the patenting they receive. Remember the girl who died in a house fire because she was so obese no one could get her out? I cried over that story so much, and as I recall it affected you deeply as well, Erika. Her family failed her, her community failed her. In my opinion letting your child eat themselves to morbid obesity without doing something major to help is tragically neglectful. I think intervention–up to & including removing the child in the most extreme cases–should be on the table. Of course it’s sugar & big ag & all the crap that makes kids fatter than ever, and no question that govt

Erika Nicole Kendall July 23, 2011 - 9:49 AM

There’s a ginormous difference between saying “it’s the responsibility of everyone around a child to ensure that child remains healthy,” and saying “your child needs to be removed from your home and placed in someone else’s home (which has risks of its own) because you’re not feeding them right.” There’s a HUGE stretch of answers in-between “failing to do anything for the child” and “removing the child from the home.” MY critique is that they need to take one of the answers in the middle and NOT take a child out of their home.

Let’s not misuse my words, here.

Heli July 23, 2011 - 1:18 PM

Aw, I didn’t misuse your words, I was only giving my opinion on the topic as a whole. The study and the article said that removal from the home is only for the most extreme, severe circumstances. Of course everything in the middle should be done first. The TV stories and related articles have seized on this one aspect but the recommendation was not to go to removal unless nothing else worked and the child’s health was in serious jeopardy. Certainly the fear that CPS could be too anxious to step in is a valid one. I agree with your critique, and absolutely the focus should be on helping the parents to help the child.

If after education and medical help is given the 200lb 12 year old comes back a year later having gained ANOTHER 100lbs, what then? More of the same education and advice? Another 2 years pass and now she’s a 400lb 15yr old. Where do we draw the line? I’d be conservative about where that line is, it should truly be a last resort. But if the argument is whether there should be a line at all, I stand by my opinion: yes, no question. We as a society fail that 400lb child if we stand by while her parents continue failing her. If the parents/family/community/church do not do what it takes to help that child turn her life around, they’re damaging her as permanently as if they were beating her.

Erika Nicole Kendall July 23, 2011 - 3:27 PM

Conflating my being angry that a child died because she couldn’t save herself from a fire… with removing children from their homes because they’re gaining weight? I’m sorry, but that feels like you’re misusing my words.

christine January 30, 2013 - 2:00 PM

Childhood obesity has puzzled me, I mean I know the causes..but it blows my mind. As a parent I’m trying to look at it from the standpoint that when you know better you do better. Some people were never taught proper nutrition, so they can’t pass the information on to their children. I have a friend who is in the nursing field, all of her kids are overweight..it breaks my heart, then it pisses me off. She knows better, but is lazy..fast food is easier! I’ve made subtle suggestions, but hey..you know how we are when it comes to our kids

Eva September 26, 2011 - 1:49 PM

Sorry to say it but I agree with Heli. If the parents were drug users no one would have a problem removing the child. People can be just as addicted to food as they are to dope.

Heli July 23, 2011 - 12:10 AM

Oops…No question that govt policies have hurt as much as helped, but this is serious and could save a life.

Peaches February 20, 2012 - 8:35 AM

Sorry, I just do not have confidence in the government to take care of an obese child. This seems to be a new phenomenon lately. Where is the research to show the psychological effect to the child when moved to a new environment? How long was the child able to maintain a healthy weight? How many children who were taken from their homes were able to lose the weight and keep it off? This is an extreme measure that may be more damaging than it actually can help the child. The local and state governments are dealing with budgeting issues, and are constantly cutting back in DHS programs each year. While I agree that an intervention needs to occur, I just do not agree with this type of intervention. Especially with the overall negative impact.

BJ February 20, 2012 - 12:02 PM

I fail to see how contributing to the workload of a child welfare system that can’t adequetely care for the kids it has will solve anything.

Susan Porter January 19, 2013 - 6:15 PM

My answer is and placed where? There will be emotional issues and then more eating and more obesity…honestly they need to place some of these so called experts somewhere else.

MrsDiva June 22, 2013 - 2:42 PM

Ok, so I am going to catch flack for this but I am one of the people that feel that obese kids should be taken from their parents. I don’t care what anyone says it IS a form of child abuse.

Everyone keeps saying that the family just needs education….there is education everywhere. We all know that eating unhealthy and not being active will put weight on you. What other kind of education do they need? Taking their kids will 1. be a wake up call and 2. hopefully give the child a fighting chance at losing weight.

Mishala October 25, 2013 - 11:49 AM

I think removal should be viable in extreme circumstances. A two hundred pound four year old with no medical condition to cause the weight should be removed from the home. But for the most part, I think it’s total crap. Especially since so many still rely on BMI to determine it, and we know how reliable that is. My daughter is four, sixty two well packed pounds on a 44 inch frame. She’s definitely big for her age, and heavy, but she’s healthy, active, and will eat any fruit or vegetable in front of her, as long as it’s isn’t a pea or highly acidic. Just looking at her, though, most people would assume she’s an unhealthy fat kid.

And in all honesty, I don’t think the government can handle it. The kids they’re most concerned with are going to be in lower income, more densely populated areas. They child care system is already taxed, and adding to it isn’t going to help. If this country really wanted to get people healthy, regulations on food would be severely tightened.

Tamah October 26, 2013 - 12:55 PM

Don’t come talking about taking children out of the home for their weight when there are children and babies being beaten, even raped in cases and they keep them right where they are at! (IN DANGERS WAY) Taking children out of the household is not the answer! Education and Parents having the means to get healthy foods are the key!

xx March 9, 2015 - 6:28 AM

Look at how much obesity correlates with poverty, and it’s easy to see this would be yet another way of criminalizing poor families. People lack access to healthy food or to the tools to cook it as the poorest among us live in shelters without propee kitchens. They work multiple jobs and commute for hours causing the time for cooking healthy meals to be lacking. Sending kids out to play and exercise can be dangerous depending on your neighborhood, not to mention that CPS has examined parents for neglect just because they let their kids play or walk alone! And maybe fat and sugar are one of the few small luxuries many can enjoy due to low incomes – if you have lived with hunger, you KNOW this.

If our society is able to make major improvements in those areas then ok, maybe it will be worth the trauma of family disruption to remove some children from their parents just because their body shape can lead to health problems. But why not work on all the above before blaming “lazy” parents or screaming child abuse. In this case it’s our entire country that can be identified as the abuser!

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