Doc blasted for saying fat kids may belong in foster care

Dr. David S. Ludwig
National Association of Children's Hospitals and Related Institutions
David Ludwig
Dr. David S. Ludwig
National Association of Children's Hospitals and Related Institutions

(CBS) Are parents to blame for childhood obesity? Are there cases in which morbidly obese kids should be taken from their parents and raised in foster care?

A media firestorm erupted last week when a Harvard prof and his co-author suggested in a widely read article that the answer to both questions was a qualified "yes." But now the man at the center of the controversy, Dr. David S. Ludwig, is responding to angry, frightened parents who read about his views, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

"It's absolutely understandable that if someone with an obese child heard the government could swoop in and take that child away, (they would) be frightened and outraged," Ludwig told Reuters. "I want to emphasize that foster care should only be the last resort when all other options have failed. It's just been heartbreaking to see how the story has been wildly exaggerated by some of the media, causing a great deal of pain and suffering for people."

Ludwig said the article was meant to spark a dialog on childhood obesity, which has been linked to all sorts of problems - including some that are life-threatening. According to the CDC, these problems include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, sleep apnea and other breathing problems, joint pain, gallstones, and heartburn - not to mention poor self-esteem and other potentially debilitating psychological problems.

If Ludwig's goal was getting people to talk, he certainly succeeded And parents weren't the only ones to express disagreement with his article.

"Forcing heavy children out of their homes is not the solution," Dr. Arthur Caplan, director of the University of Pennsylvania's Center for Bioethics, wrote on in response to Ludwig's opinion piece. "I am not letting parents off the hook, but putting the blame for childhood obesity on the home and then arguing that moving kids out of homes where obesity reigns is the answer is short-sighted and doomed to fail."

So what should be done to help the two million or so American kids whose out-of-kilter body-mass index (BMI) puts them at the highest risk? Ludwig recommends everything from financial support and parenting courses for mothers and fathers of obese kids to increased access to recreation areas, Reuters reported.

But even in trying to reassure parents, Ludwig made it clear he thinks that state intervention might be the best course in some cases. "The ultimate answer to the obesity epidemic is not to blame parents, it's to create a more healthful and supportive society. But until we get there, what do we do about that 14-year-old, 400-pound child who's not facing increased risk of illness 20 years from now, but who's facing life-threatening complications today?"

What do you think? Should parents take the blame for raising fat kids?