Child’s Play: Maggie goes on a diet

If your daughter has not developed any body issues and is still innocently unaware of the demands society places upon her to be as thin as possible, fear not. There is now a children’s book to introduce her to the wonderful world of dieting. Maggie Goes On A Diet has been self-published by the children’s author Paul M. Kramer. Yes, that’s right; a man is teaching young girls about weight issues. Due to be released on 16 October 2011 (so you can give your daughter the gift of poor body-image for Christmas), the book is currently available for pre-order. The description of it reads as follows:

 “This book is about a 14 year old girl who goes on a diet and is transformed from being extremely overweight and insecure to a normal sized girl who becomes the school soccer star. Through time, exercise and hard work, Maggie becomes more and more confident and develops a positive self image.”

While the book features a teenager at 14 years of age, it is aimed at a much younger audience. Amazon has listed the reading level ‘Ages 4-8’ and Barnes and Noble have categorised it as ‘Ages 6 to 12’. In either case, encouraging kids to diet from such an early age is absurd.

Maggie Goes On A Diet, which will go on sale in October, tells the story of a 14-year-old who becomes a school football star after losing weight

I am not ignorant of Kramer’s ‘logic’. He clearly has a rationale, suggested by his previous titles Do Not Dread Wetting the Bed – in which little Cynthia “chases away the pee-pee monster” – and Louie the Lobster Mobster – in which a criminal crustacean gets his come-uppance. The childhood obesity epidemic is hard to ignore; the book probably is an attempt to broach the issue. There’s no denying that many children are at an unhealthy weight, but does the answer lie in giving them a book that tells them that following a stringent eating regimen will make all their dreams come true? I cannot offer a full judgment of the book, as it has not yet been released, but the message of the cover art is ugly enough, as the children’s book blog Treasury Islands notes:

 “This smiley girl with Pippi Longstocking plaits is probably Maggie. And Maggie is, lets face it, a little on the plump side. Maggie has a pretty pink frock. Girls like pretty pink frocks. But look! The pretty pink frock will not fit her – it is too small! Here’s a suggestion for your next book Mr. Kramer: write a book called MAGGIE’S MUM BUYS A DRESS THAT ACTUALLY FITS HER AND DOESN’T DEGRADE HER DAUGHTER, and get someone else to write it.”

It is misguided to blame a child for his or her own obesity; parents have much more to answer for. It is a parental responsibility to ensure that their child gets nutritious meals, engages in exercise, and gains knowledge about healthy eating. In a society where thin celebrity bodies are celebrated, pre-pubescent girls don’t need a book that tells them how their life could be so much better if they only lost some weight. Teach them to lead a healthy lifestyle, but don’t tell them to get obsessive about their body image and go on a diet.

The book has caused outrage among the medical community and has been branded as ‘irresponsible’ by nutritionists. A report published last year in the journal Pediatrics revealed that the number of U.S. children under 12 hospitalized with eating disorders had soared by 119 per cent between 1999 and 2006. Susan Ringwood, of the UK eating disorder charity Beat, told the Independent:

 “Concerns about weight, size and shape are beginning to affect children at ever younger ages. Six and seven-year-olds already believe that their size tells the world what sort of person they are, and that big equals fat equals unpopular… Diets by themselves don’t directly cause eating disorders, but the combination with low self-esteem caused by body-image issues raises the risk significantly… Children should only be dieting with medical supervision and with their GP’s involvement. They should be gaining weight steadily as they grow into adulthood, and need the full range of nutrients and adequate calories to develop healthily.”

NHS Choices says the best way for children to lose weight is to ensure they eat regular meals, including breakfast, together with the family and without distractions. They should be given fruit juice, squash or water in place of fizzy drinks, and healthy snacks such as raisins or carrot sticks in place of crisps and sweets. From the age of five they should be encouraged to do at least an hour of exercise every day. A spokesperson for the British Nutrition Foundation said:

 “It’s important children develop a healthy attitude towards food early on and maintain a healthy body image throughout their teenage years.”

I doubt that this book is the best way to do this. The only thing this book is likely to do is put your daughter off her food. Maybe reprints of 80s classics would be a better idea. The Berenstain Bears and Too Much Junk Food, for example, offers a more healthy approach, with Mama Bear encouraging her family to lay off the junk food.

The tags that have been put on Maggie Goes On A Diet by Amazon users say a lot about how it is being received:

  •  teaching kids to self-hate
  • give your children neuroses
  • sexist drivel
  • if you hate your daughter
  • anorexia bait
  • body fascism
  • dangerous abusive
  • talentless hack writer
  • sick
  • waste of a good tree

I tend to find myself agreeing with them. Dieting is not a healthy choice for growing children; even teaching them about ‘dieting’ as a principal is unhealthy. If we are going to take action against the current obesity crisis, make parents the target. There has to be better ways to teach children about living a healthy lifestyle without shaming them. A child does not need to be told that her potential in trapped underneath her weight.

Expressing her concern over the impact of the book on young children, Deb Schwarz, Manager of New Zealand’s Eating Difficulties Education Network (EDEN) said:

“Research shows poor body image is associated with depression, bullying, eating disorders, risk taking behaviors, and reduced physical activity. Messages like those in the book promote body dissatisfaction”.

It is a well-known fact that dieting does not cure obesity and that it can (more often than not) have damaging effects on the individual. What’s more, the fact that this book is planning to hit the shelves a week after the Advertising Standards Authority banned from stocking girls’ T-shirts carrying the slogan, “Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels,” seems odd.

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Categories: Beliefs, Morals, Health, Medicine, People

Author:Mary-Ellen L

Lives at Lecturer in Literature and Philosophy, Poet and Professional Cynic.

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