For David Ludwig, MD, PhD, one of health’s most fundamental truths can be traced back to a 2,000-year-old quote from Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine: “Let food be thy medicine and let medicine be thy food.”
It’s a simple but powerful philosophy, and when combined with current research in obesity prevention, it’s one of the cornerstones of Children’s Hospital Boston’s Optimal Weight for Life (OWL) Clinic. “Hippocrates was right, nutrition really is the foundation for health and well-being,” says Ludwig. “He understood that intuitively, without access to the modern science and technology.”
Founded by Ludwig in 1996, OWL is a multidisciplinary clinic with a staff that includes physicians, nurses, dietitians and experts in child behavior. With Ludwig at the helm, OWL has spent the past decade and a half researching childhood obesity while serving over 1,500 patients a year, making it one of the largest and most respected childhood obesity clinics in America. Now, thanks to a $7 million grant provided by the New Balance Foundation, Ludwig and his team will be able to expand their clinical research, patient care and community health programs. The newly created New Balance Foundation Obesity Prevention Center will bring Ludwig’s message to even more children and communities struggling with weight issues.
Since he was 8 years old, Ludwig has been captivated by the inner workings of the human body. By the time he finished the fourth grade he had read every physiology book on the shelves of his local library.
That fascination stayed with him throughout his education. When he began his pediatric endocrinology fellowship at Children’s, he focused his studies on diet and weight, researching how brain function affects body size, as well as the role genetics plays in why some people become obese and others do not.
But with childhood obesity already reaching epidemic status by the mid-1990s, Ludwig felt a more preventive approach was needed to remedy the mounting health problems that overweight children would face in the future.
“Our genes, though important, haven’t caused the epidemic—so we need to look to the environment for the answers,” he says.