Womens Health

Controversial Children's Diet Book: Healthy or Harmful?

| by Michael Allen

Paul Kramer, author of  ‘Maggie Goes On A Diet,’ says that he is “amazed” by the controversy caused by his diet book for children. ‘Maggie Goes On A Diet’ is about an overweight 14-year-old girl who becomes a school football star after slimming down..

While that might sound triumphant, critics argue that the book may promote eating disorders and health problems in children as young as 4.

In an interview on ‘Good Morning America,’ Kramer said that he “had no idea that anything like this [reaction] was going to happen.” The book's web site has had five million hits so far, many from incensed parents.

It won't be released until October, but the diet book is on pre-order at Barnes & Noble, where it is listed with a recommended reading age of 6 to 12. Amazon lists the suggested readership at 4 to 8. The cover drawing of Maggie looking in a mirror seems to have stirred much of the controversy.

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Kramer defended his book saying, “My idea was just to write a story to entice and to have children feel better about themselves, to discover a new way of eating, learn to do exercise, try to emulate Maggie and learn from Maggie's experience. Children are pretty smart... they will make a good choice if you allow them that opportunity. If you push them and tell them that they can't do something, they will probably go and do the opposite.”

“Maggie is not a mean person," he explained. 'Maggie is accepting that kids are mean, kids can be mean. She has decided to do something about it and to take things in her own hands and try to change her life, try to make herself more healthy.”

The Hawaii-based author said that the word 'diet' may be misunderstood, “Diet is a misconstrued word and it has many, many meanings.”

The book's description says that Maggie's insecurities are transformed when she loses weight: “Through time, exercise and hard work, Maggie becomes more and more confident and develops a positive self image.”

However, Joanne Ikeda, a nutritionist emeritus at University of California-Berkeley, told News-Medical.net that the book “does not empower a child to adopt good eating habits” by focusing on imperfections.

Ikeda claimed the book has an underlying message, “If you don't look like Cinderella, you're a failure. I wouldn't want a child to read this ... because they might, in fact, try to do this and fail. What is that going to do to their self-esteem? Body dissatisfaction is a major risk for eating disorders in children all the way up through adulthood.”

A report published last year in the journal Pediatrics stated that the number of U.S. children under 12 that had been hospitalized with eating disorders had increased by 119 percent between 1999 and 2006.

Kramer remains steadfast in his defense of his work, “I was always taught as a child and all my life that you can't judge a book by its cover. I think that all these people, especially that those who have written negative comments without actually reading the book have judged this book solely by its cover.”