Reading helps overweight girls

October 10, 2008

I am a fan of reading, whatever the reason given, but when it can actually help overweight girls then it seems a win-win situation. New research on obesity at Duke University in the USA has found reading, if the material is right, actually encouraged weight loss in girls aged from 9-13 who took part in their study.

Getting children to lose weight is not something they can do alone, so Duke Children’s Hospital, has a family-focused weight loss programme that addresses the patients’ medical, dietary and behavioural needs. As part of the study, 31 girls who took part were given a novel called Lake Rescue (Beacon Street Girls). It’s the 6th in a series about the Beacon Street Girls by US author Annie Bryant, and in it the main character is an overweight preteen girl who struggles with low self-esteem, feelings of isolation and teasing because of her size. Another group of 33 girls read a different book called Charlotte in Paris, which did not have an overweight heroine, and another group of 17 girls read neither book.

They were all assessed after six months, and ALL the girls who read books had lost weight, but the girls who read Lake Rescue lost more.

The idea behind the study was to find a way to motivate the girls without resorting to the usual carrot and stick approach of so many dietary approaches and avoiding the often authoritative voice that goes with that. Lake Rescue was the perfect instrument, because it presents a likable character the girls could relate to and whom they could emulate. As the book progresses, its heroine learns to make healthier lifestyle choices and finds a mentor to help keep her on track. In other words, she learns that she can become healthier, and through her actions and the, ‘I can do it’ attitude really resonated with the preteen girls in the study.

The amount of weight lost was not huge, but the positive effect on the girls’ self-esteem would, the researchers believe, have a long-lasting effect that would help them maintain the weight loss. Healthy 9-13-year-old girls typically have a BMI between 16 and 19; the BMI of the girls in the study group was on average between 27 and 28. Without intervention, if these overweight girls were to continue to increase their BMI at their old rate, then in six months they would probably be at 28. Now, instead of going from 27 to 28, they are now going from 27 to 26.3, which would put her in the normal BMI range by time she is 13. If the weight is left unchecked, these girls would have a BMI of over 30 by the time they are 13, which would be obese even by adult standards.

Other Options?

The only viable option for obese pre-teens at the moment is a combination of lifestyle and behaviour-modification programmes, combined with counselling, which can be effective but unpredictable. There are some drugs available to counter severe weight-loss, but these are not suitable for anyone under the age of 15 – and used with caution by anyone over that age. The other newer option for obesity is to have a gastric bypass operation, but again this is far too risky for this younger age group.

As I said, I am all for encouraging reading, and buy Lake Rescue (Beacon Street Girls). If anyone knows of a similar story from a UK author that also features an overweight girl in a similar situation then I would be very happy to hear about it.


Article by  


What do you think of this health article by ? Join the discussion...