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David Ludwig, MD, PhD

Can obesity prevention begin before birth?

by David Ludwig, MD, PhD on August 5, 2010

David LudwigDavid Ludwig’s research was featured in Time, The Boston Globe, USA Today and CNN.

If you believe that gaining a little weight above what’s recommended while pregnant doesn’t matter, it may be time to re-think that notion. Janet Currie, PhD, of Columbia University and I collaborated to examine this question, and found that excess pregnancy weight gain is a strong predictor of high birth weight in infants. What’s the big deal if a baby is a bit too heavy? Research suggests high birth weight increases risk for numerous health problems, including obesity later in life.

Nearly one-third of children in America are now overweight or obese. Without marked decreases in prevalence, this generation of children may lead shorter, less healthful lives than their parents due to weight related diseases. Full story »


Despite promises, junk food still advertised to kids

by David Ludwig, MD, PhD on December 21, 2009

froot loopsChildren’s diet quality has declined to shocking levels, directly fueling the obesity epidemic. There are, of course, many forces affecting the eating habits of children today, such as the widespread availability of junk food, an under-funded school lunch program, and busy, stressed families. However, TV advertising to children has undoubtedly played a major role. Saturday morning children’s shows have seemingly become little more than a continuous food commercial, with beloved, iconic cartoon figures like SpongeBob peddling junk foods during programming as well as ads.

In response to the threat of governmental regulation and legal action, major food companies like Kellogg, General Mills, ConAgra and PepsiCo banded together in 2006 to create a voluntary advertising code of conduct. Called the “Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative,” this policy aimed to “change the landscape of child-directed advertising” by encouraging “Better-for-You” foods. Full story »


Artificially sweetened beverages: Is it nice to fool Mother Nature?

by David Ludwig, MD, PhD on December 10, 2009

LUDWIG_2343David Ludwig, MD, PhD, director of Children’s Optimal Weight for Life Program, just published a commentary in JAMA expressing concern about the widespread use of artificial sweeteners in soft drinks. Below, he offers some insight about why humans naturally crave sweetness, and the potential danger of confusing our ancient biological pathways of hunger and satiation with fake sugars.

Ever since our distant ancestors crawled out of the ocean, animals have been trying to eat plants. In this conflict, animals would seem to have a distinct advantage: we can move about, they can’t. But plants are by no means defenseless against our predations. They protect themselves with thorns, bark and tough fibers; stash their starches in tubers that are difficult to digest (at least when uncooked); encase their most prized possessions, high energy nuts and seeds, in impervious shells; and lace their leaves with bitter, toxic chemicals.

In fact, plants have long taken advantage of animals to help them reproduce. To entice us to serve them, plants have created seed-bearing fruits and infused them with sugar, the gold standard of energy metabolism. Full story »

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Obesity and the custody conundrum

by David Ludwig, MD, PhD on October 21, 2009

fatkidThere is a story the media find irresistible, revisiting it on a regular basis: The government takes over custody of a morbidly obese child, accusing the parents of neglect and endangerment.

These stories continue to shock us, touching upon a wide range of hot button issues including extremes in physical appearance, parental responsibility, government intrusion into private lives, and the health of this generation of children. Unfortunately, these sensational cases tell us very little about the obesity epidemic and the needs of kids today.

Clearly, parents bear much responsibility for the well being of their children. Research has clearly linked child neglect and abuse with increased risk of obesity. One hundred years ago, a neglected child was likely to be underweight. Today–with junk food everywhere and opportunities for physical activity increasingly difficult to find–obesity has become the final common pathway for many emotional and psychological problems in childhood. Full story »


Back to school: A new report card to measure if your child is obese?

by David Ludwig, MD, PhD on September 3, 2009

ludwigIt’s a long-honored tradition: several times a year, parents receive report cards showing how their children have done scholastically. But with continuing increases in childhood obesity rates, school districts and states across the country are considering a new type of parental notification: the BMI report card.

BMI, short for body mass index, is a way of measuring weight relative to height. For the more mathematically inclined, BMI is determined as weight (in kilograms) divided by height (in meters) squared. Among adults, a BMI of 18 to 25 is normal, 25 to 30 is overweight and above 30 obese. Because children grow and develop, absolute cut points can’t be used in pediatrics. Instead, a BMI between the 85th and 95th percentile is considered overweight, and above the 95th percentile obese. Full story »


How healthy is your breakfast?

by David Ludwig, MD, PhD on August 5, 2009

chocolate coated cerealWill a highly processed, sugary breakfast cereal help your kids avoid getting sick this winter? That’s the implied claim on packages of Kellogg’s Cocoa Krispies.

What they don’t advertise is that some version of sugar or partially hydrogenated fat (that is, trans fat) appears four times on the ingredient list. Full story »

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