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Is Maggie's Diet More Harmful than Helpful? I Think So...

Posted Aug 24 2011 5:16pm
Usually I am not a fan of jumping on the band-wagon of bashing the latest controversial book, movie, website, TV show, etc. I normally like to try to find something positive in what everyone else is criticizing. However, in this situation, I’m jumping on. I saw on the news last night a special about a new children’s book that will soon be sold in bookstores. The title of the book is “Maggie Goes on a Diet”. If you aren’t cringing yet, hold tight. The author, Paul Kramer, writes about a 14 year old who is called “chubby” and “fatty”, so she decides to go on a diet. Her diet consists of “healthy and nutritious” foods and one “normal sized treat” each week. She also begins to exercise and joins a soccer team. Quoted from the book: “Losing the weight was not only good for Maggie’s health, Maggie was so much happier and was also very proud of herself...More and more people were beginning to know Maggie by name. Playing soccer gave Maggie popularity and fame.” 
The first issue I have with this book, ignoring the fact that this is a children’s book, is in regard to its underlying message. Diets create more problems than they solve. I mean, honestly, do any positive thoughts come to your mind when you hear the word “diet”? No. Diets, in our society, involve restricting food groups, depriving our bodies of necessary nutrients, and searching for the easiest way to reach an ideal weight in the shortest possible period of time.. All of which result in failed attempts at trying to lose weight and continuous feelings of discouragement. Now throw in the fact that this is a children’s book. What good could possibly come from telling kids they need to go on “diets”? So many children’s minds in our society are already tainted by their mother’s attempts to “diet” and lose weight as well as society’s demand on girls to look a certain way and be a certain size. WHY would we give these children one more reason to follow in these dieting footsteps? Now... I definitely think it is good that Maggie loses her weight by eating healthy and exercising. But, the title of the book is not “Maggie Eats Her Fruits and Vegetables and Goes on Walks Every Day”. No, the title is “Maggie Goes on a Diet”. What are kids going to remember about the book? That Maggie went on a diet. How will these kids see that Maggie lost weight and then made a bunch of friends? She went on a diet. And, unfortunately, many kids will begin to see (and maybe already do see) “dieting” as severely restricting calories or purging the calories they do consume.  My next issue with this book has to do with who is going to be reading it. In this book, the character Maggie is 14 years old. 14-year olds are in, what, 9th grade? Do we honestly think freshmen in high school are going to be reading this book?  Amazon has estimated the average age of the audience of the book to be between 4 and 8 years old. 4 years old?! The idea of a 4 year old (and 8 year olds for that matter) associating their weight with how many friends they have is disheartening. In addition to the age, I’m sure overweight as well as normal weight children will read this book. What impact will this book have on these two groups of children? First off, how long does it take Maggie to lose weight? How long does it take to read the book? In the mind of a child, Maggie is losing the weight in a matter of a few pages, a few minutes. This puts the idea in these kids’ minds that becoming this ‘perfect weight’ needs to, and should happen quickly. Overweight children may get discouraged that they are not seeing the same outcome as Maggie even if they start to eat healthy and exercise like Maggie did. Normal weight children may begin to taunt and tease overweight children even more because they believe everyone should be able to do what Maggie did as fast as Maggie did. Secondly, there is no need to further implant the idea in normal weight children’s minds that overweight children need to lose weight. Don’t you think these ideas are already rampant among school aged children? We all know that kids can be mean. Why would we write a book that will further encourage normal weight children to tease overweight children? Instead, we need to be teaching our children about healthy eating and living. And we need to encourage them to do this not for “popularity and fame”, but to have healthy bodies that can be used to do great things in our world. Even if only one child used this book as a means to hurt another child, the amount of damage done is far too great. I dread what this book may do to influence the childhood of kids impacted by Maggie’s “diet”.  Maybe you think I’m taking this a bit too far. They’re just kids, right? They aren’t going to read into this book as much as an adult would. It will be good for them to hear about eating healthy and exercising, wouldn’t it? Maybe this is true. But why run the risk of causing humiliation, hurt feelings, distorted ideas regarding “dieting”, and possible disordered eating patterns in attempt to do just the opposite? Why not find healthy ways to teach these kids about true healthy eating and exercising in a way that will not possibly lead to these potential negative consequences? I can’t force anyone else to take on my opinion regarding this book. But all I can say is if I had children,there is no way on earth I would ever want them to read this book. Hopefully parents will carefully think it through before purchasing this book for their children. Thanks for letting me rant for a bit :)

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