Maggie Goes on a Diet, a new book by children's author Paul Michael Kramer, is drawing fire from those who believe it inappropriately focuses children on their weight and, by doing so, could lead to eating disorders. In the book, Maggie, a 14-year-old girl who is very overweight and has a negative self-image goes on a diet, works hard at it, loses weight and becomes a soccer star at school. She likes herself better, so the story ends happily-ever-after.
I support Kramer's book. With childhood obesity rates at 17 percent of all children and adolescents (per the Centers for Disease Control), a figure three times that one generation ago, it's time to start teaching kids to control their appetites. It's really that simple.
Nutritionists and child psychologists who charge that Kramer's book will cause eating disorders presume that telling children to eat healthily—even if that means eating less and exercising—will make them sick. This is akin to suggesting that if we advise them to abstain from, or simply even limit, sexual activity that they will become sexually repressed and suffer from a sexual disorder. I don't buy that—at all.
While it could be theorized that some children and adolescents who are vulnerable to over-dieting could gravitate toward Maggie Goes on a Diet, I don't think the book is going to push them over the edge. Not even close. Of the psychological factors that put children at risk for eating disorders, I would rank a book like Kramer's about 100 times lower than having parents who are themselves eating disordered (including those who are obese), having parents who are relentlessly controlling, suffering sexual abuse, feeling a severe loss of control in one or more areas of one's life (such as the death of a close friend or a sudden move cross-country) or having major depression itself (since that illness seems to track along with anorexia and bulimia).
Moreover, I believe the theoretical risk of giving adolescents the tools to combat obesity pales in comparison to the known and very severe psychiatric problems that childhood and adolescent obesity, in and of itself, can cause. These include low self-esteem, social anxiety, mood instability and even suicidal ideation.
In fact, in a society like ours, which contaminates childhood with falsehoods and fictions about nearly everything, Maggie is a welcome truth-seeker. She isn't Harry Potter going to wizard school with our wizard children. She isn't the heroine of iCarly, broadcasting her life over the Internet, in a narcissistic frenzy, laced with sexual innuendo. She isn't the bisexual heroine of Pretty Little Liars, solving the mysteries of her own erotic impulses while solving imaginary crimes.
No, Maggie is for real. She really has to lose weight. She really could be at risk for childhood diabetes, if she doesn't. She really could end up suffering low self-esteem for decades, if she doesn't. She really could come to question why she doesn't have impulse control or the resolve to conquer her addiction to food and get fit.
The same people criticizing Paul Michael Kramer and his Maggie Goes on a Diet are the people handing out ribbons and trophies to their kids whether they win or lose. They're the people who are letting their kids use Facebook and disseminate mini-reality-bending, narcissism-inducing autobiographies of themselves to hundreds of fake "friends." They're the people who are buying candy and ice cream for their overweight sons and daughters because saying "no" might injure them in some mysterious way that has never been proven—ever. These are the people who also, by the way, fuel America's false economy with fake stimulus packages and bailouts and the printing of fake currency.
Maggie is a brave 14-year-old taking charge of her nutritional status, her weight and her life. I think she's a fabulous role model—far better than the size 20 women who go on talk shows and lie about how happy they are with their bodies. And Paul Michael Kramer is a brave author for bringing her to life. Hopefully, some of those Americans who would rather hear that everything will be okay as long as we tell every child how perfect she is, will actually read his book, too.
Keith Ablow, MD is a psychiatrist, and was host of the nationally-syndicated "Dr. Keith Ablow Show." He is a former member of the Fox News Medical A Team.