Harvard University obesity experts have reportedly proposed that some parents should lose custody of their extremely overweight children to foster care. In a July 13, 2011, Journal of the American Medical Association opinion piece titled “State Intervention in Life-Threatening Childhood Obesity,” David Ludwig and Lindsey Murtagh suggest that the same legal precedents that protect undernourished children should apply to severely obese kids.

According to news sources, Ludwig, an obesity specialist at Harvard-affiliated Children’s Hospital Boston, and Murtagh, a lawyer and Harvard School of Public Health researcher, claim that removing a severely obese child from the home may be legally justifiable because of imminent heath risks such as Type 2 diabetes, liver problems and breathing issues. State intervention “ideally will support not just the child but the whole family, with the goal of reuniting child and family as soon as possible,” after possible parenting instruction, Ludwig reportedly said.

The commentary has apparently sparked outcry among some families and professionals dealing with childhood obesity. Citing a lack of evidence supporting the contention that states would do a better job than parents, they argue that parents cannot control associated issues such as advertising, marketing, peer pressure, and bullying. “If you’re going to change a child’s weight, you’re going to have to change all of them,” a University of Pennsylvania bioethicist was quoted as saying. See Associated Press and The Wall Street Journal, July 13, 2011; ABC News, July 14, 2011.