Harvard Professor Under Fire After Calling For Obese Children To Be Removed From Homes In Severe Cases

Harvard University Professor Dr. David Ludwig is under attack for his public call this week for some obese children to be taken from their parents to protect their health. Ludwig stated that “[i]n 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.” That legal standpoint may need a bit more work.

Ludwig is an obesity expert at Children’s Hospital Boston and associate professor at the Harvard School of Public Health. His comments came in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

First, in defense of Ludwig, he prefaced his statement by saying that such intervention would only be in severe cases. It is indeed possible for a child to be removed in a severe case where the child is in imminent risk of seriously injury or death due to either acts or omissions by the parents.

However, the statement rightfully raised concerns. There is growing evidence of genetic predispositions for obesity in some people. The parents may not be at fault in the continuing condition. Moreover, removing the child from the home will only increase stress for the child.

Parental rights are protected by the Constitution and, while child services are given a fair degree of discretion in the removal of children from homes to protect them, those decisions are subject to a full legal process. Most such removals are likely to fail under current legal standards absent a showing of imminent harm and a failure of the parents to follow medical advice. As a comparison, courts often express reluctance to order cancer treatments or medical interventions for a child when parents claim religious objections to treatment. The child is often at immediate risk when a court issues an order of removal or arrest.

The problem is that obesity is very common (unfortunately) among children today and they are all at some level of risk. An estimated 12.5 million children and teens (17% of that population) are obese.

Ludwig would need a case where the child is in immediate risk of heart failure of some of medical emergency. Such a status usually required hospitalization, not foster care. Moreover, experts in the article below question whether care would improve in foster care.

This was the case of 3-year-old Anamarie Regino who weighed 90 pounds and was removed from the home for two months. She did not show any improvement in foster care. She is now 14 years old and was raised by her parents.

Source: ABC News

166 thoughts on “Harvard Professor Under Fire After Calling For Obese Children To Be Removed From Homes In Severe Cases”

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  3. i think that sure there is is obese children but that is their problem and they got to want to change there self first before anyone else does

  4. Gyges,

    “Of course parents make a choice one way or the other about feeding their children, but we as human beings are such products of our culture that most of them aren’t even aware there’s a choice to be made.”

    I think some parents are well aware of their choices. They just may be too lazy to cook or prepare their children’s lunches when fast foods and convenience foods are so readily available.

  5. Elaine,

    Which is why I pointed out that it was a variety of factors.

    If you want to change the way people eat, you have to change WAY more than just “look, it’s not the hard to make all the meals for the week on the weekend.” You need to change attitudes about convenience, restaurants, and family scheduling. You have to re-educate the populace on cooking techniques and basic nutrition. You have to change the tax code, health regulations, and farm subsidies. In some cases you even have to change the availability of non-prepared foods foods. Most importantly, you have to shift the basic concept of “meal” from the mental category of “product.”

    If you really want to get into it I suggest looking into the modern era section of “Food: the History of Taste.”

    Of course parents make a choice one way or the other about feeding their children, but we as human beings are such products of our culture that most of them aren’t even aware there’s a choice to be made.


    I’m pretty sure I’ve read several places that the use of Parsley as a garnish was stolen butcher shops in the mid 1800’s (butcher shops still use it for a garnish, in fact, you can buy cheap plastic “parsley” dividers at butcher supply stores). That said, it is good for cleansing bad breath and you’re right about it’s several health benefits. It’s also an incredibly ubiquitous herb, so not eating the garnish probably isn’t going to eliminate it from your diet.

    I agree with much of what you say, but some of your facts about food just aren’t true. There are plenty of well researched books about the history of food, with lots of great documentation. The one I recommended to Elaine is a great place to start (if very academic). There’s lots of things to gripe about with the modern American diet without making things up.


    My guess is that the sugar either helps the fries brown better, covers up substandard potatoes, or both.

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