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Weight-loss book for children raising concerns among health experts

By Nkoyo Iyamba | Posted - Aug. 23, 2011 at 6:45 p.m.

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SALT LAKE CITY — A new book aimed at fighting childhood obesity is getting strong reaction. Some people say the book might actually make things worse for kids struggling with their weight.

It's called "Maggie Goes on a Diet," the story of a 14-year-old girl who transforms herself from a chubby teen with low self-esteem to a slender soccer star.

So what's wrong with that?

"I never liked to use the word ‘diet' with kids because, one, it provokes the image of ‘I do this for a little while, then done,'" said Dr. Ellie Brownstein, with University Health Care. "But it also provokes the image of ‘something is wrong with me; I need to changes something,' rather than promoting healthy lifestyles."

... it also provokes the image of ‘something is wrong with me; I need to changes something,' rather than promoting healthy lifestyles.

–Dr. Ellie Brownstein, University Health Care

Some of Brownstein's patients are overweight and obese kids. She says promoting healthier lifestyles is a responsibility for both kids and their parents.

In a 2010 study from the Utah Department of Health, researchers selected 4,310 first-, third-, and fifth-grade students from 69 randomly selected public schools throughout Utah to assess childhood overweight and obesity rates. They found:

  • 20.4 percent of elementary school students were at an unhealthy weight (overweight and obese combined)
  • More boys than girls were overweight or obese at every grade level

The study also added that nationally, 80 percent of children who were overweight at any time during the elementary period were overweight at 12 years of age.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, eating disorders among kids under age 12 have risen 119 percent. But when it comes to childhood obesity, you can't really place the blame on any one thing.

"I think people come in all different shapes and sizes, and people need to realize that," said Dr. Renee Valles, child psychiatrist at Valley Mental Health.

In the book, Maggie is bullied because she's fat. When she loses weight, she gets a new group of friends. Valles says that's a misleading message that can cause anxiety and other lasting psychological trauma.

"Sometimes anxious kids may eat more; anxious kids later develop depression and self-esteem issues," Valles said.

The book is aimed at kids between the ages of 6 and 12.


Nkoyo Iyamba


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