Should six-year-olds be dieting?

"Maggie Goes on a Diet" - a glorified tale of weight loss aimed at young girls - is stirring a storm of criticism.

“Maggie Goes on a Diet” tells the story of 14-year-old Maggie, who "goes on a diet and is transformed from being extremely overweight and insecure to a normal sized girl who becomes the school soccer star."

Add the children’s book aisle to the list of places you’ll want to check your child’s exposure.

As if kids weren’t already growing up too fast – heard of pre-teen push-up bras and pint-size makeup kits? – now there’s a book that’ll help your six-year-old go on a diet.

“Maggie Goes on a Diet,” is a children’s book that will hit shelves this October. Barnes & Noble's website says the book is for young readers 6 to 12; Amazon's site says ages 4 to 8.

The book is written and self-published by Hawaii-based author Paul Kramer, who has said he writes about issues kids deal with today. In 2010, Mr. Kramer wrote about bullying in "Bullies Beware," and tried to help kids deal with bed-wetting and divorce in "Do Not Dread Wetting the Bed," and, "Divorce Stinks," both due out this fall.

According to the book’s blurb, “Maggie Goes on a Diet,” tells the story of 14-year-old Maggie, who "goes on a diet and is transformed from being extremely overweight and insecure to a normal sized girl who becomes the school soccer star. Through time, exercise and hard work, Maggie becomes more and more confident and develops a positive self image."

Although the book has not yet hit shelves, its cover alone is so perturbing, it is, writes The Guardian’s Laura Barnett, one we can excuse ourselves for judging the book by.

It shows a very pudgy, pigtailed girl wistfully holding a pink dress half her size and gazing into a mirror at a much slimmer version of herself, perhaps envisioning the day she can squeeze herself into that tiny pink dress.

Instructive storytelling is nothing new, but a diet book for a child? Feels like snatching candy away from a babe.

And in many ways, it is.

For children who haven't yet passed through puberty, cutting calories poses "the danger of stunting growth and height," Joanne Ikeda, a nutritionist emeritus at University of California-Berkeley, told ABC’s Good Morning America. "As a consequence, most responsible health professionals would not recommend dieting, even for overweight children. There's usually the strategy of trying to help children grow into their weight,” she said, adding that pediatric obesity literature contains cases "where children restricted their calorie intake because they were so afraid of becoming fat that they actually slowed down their growth curve.”

As if adult diet books aren’t already enough of a nuisance, we’re inflicting the body-image-busting neuroses on our impressionable kids at the prime age for developing anorexia.

"Body dissatisfaction is a major risk for eating disorders in children all the way up through adulthood," Ikeda told ABC.

We’re guessing the book was a well-intentioned project by Kramer, designed to help tackle childhood obesity through storytelling – misguided at best. But in an age in which we’ve already accelerated our kids' growth with sexually-charged pop music, hyper-sexed reality TV role models, mature-rated video games, and unrestricted online chatting and texting, a diet book for kids seems downright cruel.

Husna Haq is a Monitor correspondent.

Join the Monitor's book discussion on Facebook and Twitter.

of stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Unlimited digital access $11/month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.