Skeptical Buffalo: A Dieting Book For Six-Year-Olds?

Skeptical Buffalo Says: Wut.
Skeptical Buffalo Sez: Wut.

A dieting book geared toward kids ages 6-12 is provoking controversy online. The author apparently wanted to help kids address their problems. Unfortunately, what he actually did was illustrate a story in which:

1. Getting made fun of on a regular basis prompts a child to make a positive lifestyle change. There are no consequences for the bullies, though that may certainly be argued to be an accurate depiction of real life.

2. Losing weight magically makes you popular and athletic.

To be fair,  the character in the story, Maggie, loses weight through eating better and exercising more, not by starving herself or purging. And obesity is a quickly-growing epidemic among youth.

But still, despite the good intentions and the real problems this book was written to address, it’s a little bit hinky to be telling six-year-olds that weight loss is the magical solution to unpopularity and sadness, or even a solution to bad body image. Weight loss doesn’t always give you the figure you want anyway, and dieters may lose pounds and ultimately, still be highly dissatisfied with their bodies.

I could have weighed six ounces as a 12-year-old and I still would have been tremendously unpopular. And there were plenty of thin and beautiful unpopular kids in my class.

And the image on the book’s cover is an exact inversion of what anorexic people see in the mirror: The chubby Maggie looks in a mirror and sees a thin version of herself.

In real life, a pathetically thin anorexic girl looks in the mirror and sees a chubby version of herself–I’ve seen that image used to illustrate anorexia and bulimia more than once in many places, because it describes so perfectly what people with those eating disorders see. When they look in the mirror, they do not see an emaciated person; they see a fat person. It’s every bit as much of a fantasy as Maggie’s thin-alternate-self in the mirror.

Needless to say, children shouldn’t diet unless there’s some sort of really good reason, and they should be supervised by adults if they must diet.

And there are many girls who, at age 6-12, are sort of… solid. When girls go through puberty their body weight redistributes itself significantly, and I know plenty of girls who were chubby before that happened and normal or even thin afterward.

Will kids reading this book get the impression that they need to slim down, long before their bodies change everything anyway? The author says these books are meant to be read by parents and children together, I believe, but is that really going to happen every time?

Is the book damaging, or a needed antidote to the obesity epidemic among young people?