School Lunch
Combating childhood obesity can be difficult when schools serve high-fat foods. At the same time, books like "Maggie Goes on a Diet" are raising serious questions about body image. Image: Flickr / Ben+Sam / CC-BY-ND

About 17 in every 100 individuals between ages 2 and 19 in the United States are considered obese. A self-published book entitled “Maggie Goes on a Diet” recently listed on Amazon tries to address that epidemic with solid nutritional advice for kids. Critics, however, worry that the children’s picture book will push more kids toward eating disorders.

The book in question

Recently listed on Amazon and Barnes and Noble websites for sale later this year, “Maggie Goes on a Diet” is a book about a 14-year-old girl who starts out overweight and unpopular. Through eating right and exercising, Maggie loses weight, becomes a soccer star and ends up being popular. The book is targeted to children who are 4 to 12 years old. The book is written in rhyme and is intended for parents and children to read together.

Experts disagree over ‘Maggie Goes on a Diet’

According to Hawaii-based author Paul Kramer:

“My intentions were just to write a story to entice and to have children feel better about themselves, discover a new way of eating, learn to do exercise, try to emulate Maggie and learn from Maggie’s experience.”

Children’s health experts, however, are strongly questioning “Maggie Goes on a Diet.” In general, nutritionists and pediatricians recommend that children eat balanced meals and exercise regularly but do not take on a calorie-counting or appearance-based diet. Counting or cutting calories when a child has not yet reached puberty can stunt growth. Children who start restricting calorie intake before the age of 13 are also at a much higher risk of being overweight in adulthood than children who do not restrict calories.

Questions about eating disorders

Though “Maggie Goes on a Diet” is about eating right and exercising, concerns about a connection to eating disorders have been raised. “Maggie Goes on a Diet” starts with the main character disliking her body, and she makes changes because of that. The book is targeted toward children who are the age where eating disorders can often begin to develop. In general, about 4 out of every 100 women in the United States will develop an eating disorder at some point in their lives. Anorexia, bulimia and binge eating are serious medical disorders that can have long-lasting effects on an individual’s heath. Some worry that the connection between being skinny and being popular will lead to more problems with eating disorders in young children.

Growing into weight

For children who are overweight, nutritionists recommend healthy habits that will help them grow into the weight they do have, rather than specifically reducing weight. This includes a diet with whole grains, vegetables and low-fat dairy, rather than counting calories. This can be especially difficult for some children, as school lunch programs regularly serve high-calorie, high-fat items such as french fries and pizza and do not offer fruits and vegetables.

Sources

WebMD http://children.webmd.com/features/eating-disorders-children-teens?page=2
US Department of Health and Human Services http://aspe.hhs.gov/health/reports/child_obesity/
LA Times http://articles.latimes.com/2011/aug/23/news/la-heb-maggie-goes-on-a-diet-book-20110823
ABC News http://abcnews.go.com/Health/maggie-diet-author-paul-kramer-defends-teen-dieting/story?id=14362132&page=2
CDC http://www.cdc.gov/obesity/data/trends.html
USA Today http://www.usatoday.com/yourlife/food/diet-nutrition/2011-01-12-schoollunch13_ST_N.htm

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