Targeted Books for Children can Help Tackle Obesity

Sarah Armstrong, MD, director of Duke's Healthy Lifestyles Program says giving your child the right kind of novel to read can help fight obesity. Sixteen percent of children, age 6 to 19, are overweight or obese – a state of affairs that led Duke researchers to look for better options to tackle childhood obesity.

The group studied obese girls, age nine to thirteen who were already engaged in a comprehensive weight loss program. They were given an age-appropriate book to read, written to include a strong role model, positive messages, healthy lifestyle and weight management direction. The novel was targeted by pediatric experts, and is titled Lake Rescue. The book is part of the Beacon Street Girls series. Lake Rescue becomes an outdoor challenge for an overweight seventh grader.

After six months, the researchers found that the girls who read the novel had a significant reduction in body mass index (BMI) when compared to the girls who didn’t read the novel. Dr. Armstrong says, "As a pediatrician, I can't count the number of times I tell parents to buy a book that might provide useful advice, yet I've never been able to point to research to back up my recommendations.” Dr. Armstrong notes that most weight loss programs for kids just don’t work well - the incidence of childhood obesity has tripled since 1980.

The decrease in BMI was small, but Dr. Armstrong feels anything is beneficial. She explains, "If their BMI percentile goes down, it means they are they are either losing weight or getting tall and not gaining weight. Both are seen as positive indicators in kids who are trying to lose weight.” She feels that the addition of literature is “a welcome addition to a world where there aren't a lot of alternatives."

If your child has been putting on weight, take it seriously. Many parents balk when their healthcare provider suggests their child is gaining too much weight. Determination of childhood obesity is made by comparison children of the same age – if your doctor finds that your child’s BMI-for-age is between 85th and 94th percentiles, it means he or she is overweight. Obesity is defined as BMI-for-age in the 95th percentile or above.

Current guidelines suggest that obese children at risk for developing heart disease should be placed on cholesterol lowering medications early in life – those medicines carry side effects. The alternative of ignoring the problem simply sets your child up for a lifetime of health problems and poor self image.

Engage your child in frequent activities that encourage weight loss. Avoid buying high calorie foods. Look at any psychological factors that might lead to overeating, such as stress or boredom. Children often follow parental eating habits.

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Beacon Street Girls