David Ludwig answers TEDMED community questions about childhood obesity

After spending more than 15 years researching evidence-based ways to prevent and treat childhood obesity, David Ludwig, MD, PhD and director of the New Balance Foundation Obesity Prevention Center Boston Children’s Hospital knows that obesity is a complex epidemic that can’t be fought from only one angle.

After TEDMED classified childhood obesity as one of its Top 20 Great Challenges of 2012, the public was invited to submit questions about the state of the epidemic and how we might go about reducing childhood obesity. Of these questions, 10 were selected by TEDMED and posed to Ludwig. Here are his responses.

1. What are the top 10 causes of obesity in children, and which ones can be reduced or prevented?

2. Apart from the genetic component of childhood obesity, what do we know about parents’ roles in influencing their children’s weight?

3. Are there affordable and effective programs to reduce childhood obesity that can be reproduced on a large scale?

4. Should we be concerned that campaigns against childhood obesity might have an unintended negative consequence of actually increasing the risk of eating disorders?

5. Studies reveal extraordinary variances in rates of childhood obesity among different groups, such as some Native Americans and African-American teenage girls. Why is this, and how should we address the issue in a culturally sensitive way?

6. What do we know about the impact of food advertising aimed at children, and how effective has voluntary restraint (on the part of food companies, restaurants, etc.) been in combating any negative effects?

7. Because of the relationship between obesity and the development of chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes, today’s children could be the first generation to have a shorter lifespan than their parents. Which elements of society (including but not limited to care providers, citizens, government, business, religious institutions, or any other group) should play a role in combating this problem, and what steps should they take?

8. Kids spend an average of 7.5 hours a day in front of various kinds of screens (phone, TV, computer, video game). Does this play a role in childhood obesity and, regardless, might screens also be enlisted as part of the solution to childhood obesity?

9. How do gender differences and body image issues influence childhood obesity and how should programs to address childhood obesity take these differences into account?

10. Schools have undertaken a number of special initiatives to combat childhood obesity, including: offering healthier lunches; eliminating soda from vending machines; and weighing students, then sending parents “fat” report cards. Do these programs make a difference? What can and should schools do to help their students achieve and maintain a normal weight?

Our approach at the New Balance Foundation Obesity Prevention Center Boston Children’s Hospital is as extensive as childhood obesity itself—focusing not only on patient care, but also on clinical research, advocacy and community education, and on developing innovative treatments to effectively address each patient’s individual biology and behavior.

The Center’s clinical arm—The Optimal Weight for Life Program—is one of the largest and most respected childhood obesity clinics in the country, and we’ll continue to fight, treat and prevent obesity until every child is well. Request an appointment at one of our Boston, Waltham or Peabody locations.