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Diet book for children as young as six sparks backlash

NUTRITION experts have criticised a new children's book on dieting.

The book, Maggie Goes on a Diet by Paul Kramer, is aimed at six- to 12-year-olds, according to Amazon.

But Irish dieticians are concerned that the book may exacerbate the problem of eating disorders.

The book, which is self-published by the Hawaiian author, is about a 14-year-old girl who goes on a diet and is transformed from being extremely overweight and insecure to a normal sized girl who becomes her school's soccer star.

Dr Dan McCartney, lecturer in Human Nutrition and Dietetics in DIT, said the book is too simplistic, and it will set overweight children apart from their peers.

"Certainly the way this is addressing the issue isn't the best way to deal with it. You run the risk of stigmatising children who are carrying extra weight and at such a sensitive time in their development.

"The people who will be reading this book are those who are at the prime age group who are susceptible to eating disorders, and it's quite simplistic in its outlook.

"When dealing with children, it can be more useful to take a minimalist point of view rather than giving them a book. Support and gentle guidance works better with children. This idea that they need to read a book or undertake very onerous physical activity or diet sets them apart from their peers."

Dr Nina Byrnes, who co-presents How Long Will You Live? on RTE, said eating disorders are very common in teenage girls and it's unhelpful to equate being popular with being skinny. On the book cover we see an overweight frumpy girl holding up a smaller dress and seeing a skinny girl in the mirror.

"The age group that this book is pitched at doesn't have the same mature views as adult, and they think that the girl who became skinny became popular. We need to promote healthy eating and not dieting."

Dr McCartney added: "We're hearing about more and more cases of children with eating disorders at five, six and seven years of age.

"Children do pick up on these things and if there are publications like this that teach children to be ashamed or embarrassed or to feel that they're in some way inadequate because of their weight, it's likely to exacerbate problems of anorexia and other eating disorders."