July 14, 2011
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.
A family in Albuquerque, N.M., disagreed with the idea, based not on any medical expertise but on a painful personal experience that they say tore the family apart more than a decade ago.
In a case that shocked many people across the country, 3-year-old Anamarie Regino, weighing 90 pounds, was taken from her outraged parents by government officials and placed in foster care.
“Literally, it was two months of hell. It seemed like the longest two months of my life,” mother Adela Martinez said.
As it turned out, it was two unnecessary months of hell. Anamarie didn’t improve at all in foster care, and she was returned to her parents. The young girl was later diagnosed with a genetic predisposition.
“They say it’s for the well-being of the child, but it did more damage that any money or therapy could ever to do to fix it,” Martinez said.
Anamarie, who is now 14, agreed.
“It’s not right, what [Dr. Ludwig] is doing, because to get better you need to be with your family, instead of being surrounded by doctors,” she said.
When told of the Regino case, Ludwig said his solution of state intervention did not always work.
“Well, state intervention is no guarantee of a good outcome, but to do nothing is also not an answer,” Ludwif said.
Ludwig said he believes that children should only be removed in the most extreme cases, and that state officials should first offer counseling and education to parents.
“It should only be used as a last resort,” he said. “It’s also no guarantee of success, but when we have a 400-pound child with life threatening complications, there may not be any great choices.”
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