I don’t generally post so quickly in succession but I just got forwarded this link one too many times.

Book Offers Novel Approach to Weight Loss

Here’s the thing: SLIGHTLY more likely is a pretty meaningless result when you are looking at one very small study over such a short period of time.

“The book helped,” she said. “It either helped them stay at the same weight while they were growing or even helped them lose their weight.”

Or, shocker of all shockers, they identified with the fat character because they have been berated, even at ages 9-13, for being fat and understand the struggle to lose weight that the character experienced. Because they have experienced it themselves. There is no indication that the girls who read the book that was not about weight loss and the girls who didn’t read a book at all gained weight. Only that tiny percentage point measuring 33 girls who are at a stage of life when weight is an unstable thing anyway.

Oh, they are grasping at straws with this one, people. Tiny little fragments of straws.

Also, I find it particularly disgusting the way the researcher, like so many other people, assign ownership of excess weight.

“It either helped them stay at the same weight while they were growing or even helped them lose their weight.” – emphasis mine

Our bodies belong to us in all of our mass and gravitas. In another context, the assigning of ownership might not seem so gross. But this just seems like another case of “that is THEIR problem, it will not happen to me; THEIR weight is the issue, my weight is fine.”

And, one more quote:

Dr. David Katz, director of the Yale University School of Medicine Prevention Research Center, said embedding weight-management messages in a book is a “very promising idea,” but more research is needed.

“Could a cottage industry sprout up in publishing for novels that are ostensibly about some diverting plot, but really about eating well, being active, or losing weight?” he asked. “It’s too soon to tell. We don’t know how strongly, consistently, or enduringly such books might contribute to weight loss and control, or other health benefits.”

While I appreciate the doctor’s acknowledgement that we really have no idea how books modeling weight loss will impact young female readers (or anyone else for that matter) in the long run, he’s missing a larger point. Fiction that is written in order to preach a certain course of action rarely succeeds. It winds up formulaic and awful. If a writer isn’t telling a story that they believe in – that contains truth in all the fiction – the story will fail. It becomes propaganda.

You can convince some people with propaganda. History has proven it. But history also tends to judge propaganda pretty harshly.


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7 Comments

  1. Posted October 7, 2008 at 11:51 am | Permalink

    Dr. David Katz, director of the Yale University School of Medicine Prevention Research Center, said embedding weight-management messages in a book is a “very promising idea,” but more research is needed.

    No, Dr. Katz, it’s not promising…it’s creepy. It’s creepy and weird. And, like you said, TR, it makes for really shitty reading.

  2. LilahMorgan
    Posted October 7, 2008 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

    As if there’s a shortage of books encouraging kids to lose weight anyway. In addition to the Sweet Valley High books and their endless descriptions of the girls’ “perfect size six” figures, I vividly remember reading a variety of books, such as one where a clumsy (fat) kid bets that he won’t get injured for the whole summer. If he loses, he has to kiss the gross fat girl. (He does lose, but they both lose weight so it’s not gross anymore). I mean, seriously? Those books probably did help me lose weight by contributing to an eating disorder.

  3. Posted October 7, 2008 at 5:10 pm | Permalink

    I’m not sure where they get off thinking that girls don’t get enough “encouragement” to lose weight as it is. But hell, I lost weight LOTS of times when I was in that age category. And look at me now.

  4. Entangled
    Posted October 7, 2008 at 9:25 pm | Permalink

    Now that I think about it, one of my favorite books as a preteen starts out when the fat girl visits grandma for the summer and due to farm labor and fresh green beans loses weight. She then joins the cheerleading team and the in-crowd only to realize that her new friends are superficial and petty and she was a lot happier back when she was overweight and uncool.

    I can just see the overwrought parents trying to ban it because it doesn’t provide a strong enough pro-weight loss message.

  5. Posted October 7, 2008 at 9:53 pm | Permalink

    That’s . . . so weird and gross. I feel grimy from reading that article.

    One to three MONTHS??!? In adolescent GIRLS?? FFS, there’s an INCREDIBLE range of body types and weights in that age range (yes, I realize that the study concentrated on ‘overweight’ girls, but FAT IS NOT A BODY TYPE) . . . and a change in one percentile point? *gah*

    I don’t think the study’s results are statistically significant, and more to the point, I think that trying to imbed subliminal messages into children’s pleasure reading is only going to result in them not reading for pleasure because every book feels like an indictment of who they are.

    I sincerely hope this study sinks without a trace :/

  6. M
    Posted October 8, 2008 at 12:23 am | Permalink

    I have a background in research and, FA aside, the problem that jumped out at me was that in the real world (as opposed to this study) people will choose their own books based on their interests. Maybe it will seem to encourage readers to lose weight, but the girls (apparently how that type of reading affects boys is irrelevant? Like in the book LilahMorgan mentioned, it’s more acceptable for a boy to be overweight, but heaven forbid it’s a fat girl!) who want to read books where the character loses weight will probably want to lose weight before the book anyway. Or are happy thin character books going to be forced on fat kids now?

    Back in my eating disordered days, I read a lot of the “pro-ed” sites and they would have lists of “thinspiration” books. This study seems to endorse that mentality.

  7. Posted October 12, 2008 at 3:38 pm | Permalink

    Weeeeell, being the tight-assed fascist that I am, I’d say I’m a big fan of propaganda. But I think they’re doing it wrong, here.

    If we’re going to bombard children with even more subliminal messaging than they see on TV by adding it to all forms of print, let’s go with anti-violence messages instead of pro-weightloss.

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