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Embed Weight Loss Messages in Books?

This is clever, albeit... evil. BFBer Viola discovered that a Duke University study looked at whether fat kids reading a book with a weight-loss story line ended up losing weight. And:

In the study, the researchers assigned 31 severely overweight girls in a weight-management program to read a book called Lake Rescue, part of a series called Beacon Street Girls. The girls were all aged 9 to 13.

The researchers then compared the body mass indexes of girls in the three groups up to six months later. On average, the girls who read Lake Rescue gained better control of their weight, moving from the 98th to the 97th percentile in a range of weights, [Study Author Alexandra C.] Russell said.

(Above from the WaPo version of the article.) The book itself is described best in the LA Times article:

The book in question is "Lake Rescue," part of the Beacon Street Girls series of books, aimed at tween girls, that tackles issues such as cyber bullying and divorce. In this book, an overweight girl goes to an outdoor adventure camp with her class. Although worried about being picked on for being heavy, she finds a role model who teaches her about becoming healthier through eating right and trying new activities.

Interestingly, the HealthDay version of the article that I quoted has a more ambiguous take than the LA Times Blogs one. The LA Times reports on the exact weight lost:

The "Lake Rescue" group decreased its BMI scores 0.71%, the group that read another book decreased its BMI scores .33%, and the group that had no intervention increased its BMI scores .05%.

So the girls who read a non-weight-loss-related book lost weight, too. Maybe the fact that all of the participants were already enrolled in Duke's weight loss program had a little something to do with that?

All told, it's interesting stuff. Correlation does not equal causation, of course, so it remains to be seen if this is just a big coincidence (and, you know, all of the participants were already in a weight loss environment - no small thing, this.) It'd be even better to see books embed HAES and pro-size messages though, wouldn't it?

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lilacsigil October 7th, 2008 | Link | Has anyone here read the

Has anyone here read the book in question? Because being active and eating good food can be HAES-related rather than weight-related, and I would be very interested to see if the girls in the study were actually getting a health and confidence message rather than a weight-loss message. I know that I have lost weight (not a goal) by practicing HAES, mostly because it helped me understand my binge-eating disorder.

rachelr's picture
October 7th, 2008 | Link | I agree, Lilacsigal. I

I agree, Lilacsigal. I thought that, according to the way in which the news articles framed it, the messages were surprisingly HAES-positive and emphasized health over weight. Food manufacturers embed sublimial messages in food advertising all the time to get kids to eat unhealthy crap, so if these authors are embedding healthy eating into their book's messages, I don't see it as inherently bad but rather a much-needed counterforce to unscrupulous advertising practices. Although, I would like to see these kinds of messages in books with thin protagonists, too. Fat kids aren't the only ones who need to eat healthy.

perigee October 7th, 2008 | Link | Statistics

We all know that BMI is flawed, but we keep using it anyway.

Also, we should keep in mind that statistics are tricky things and that the amounts of change we're looking at in BMI may also simply not be meaningful.

It depends on magnitude of scale and sample size (and what the confidence interval, standard deviation and T-scores are), but relative changes of less than 200% (i.e. 3 times actual amount) are usually suspect and as Sandy at Junkfood Science says, the British Medical Journal has been having an ongoing discussion on whether or not that line should be moved to 900% (i.e. 10 times the actual amount) in order for us to get any meaningful data out of studies anyhow.

And this applies across the board for any scientific study.

The values you quote here are under 1% and therefore qualify as most probably noise, represented however the researchers felt like it. If you're curious about this, let me know and I'll narrate for you a particularly prickly problem with subatomic microscopy, Fourier transforms and elephants, in a story about scientists seeing what they want to see in the mid-90's. I think it would be foolish to think that scientists remain immune to that tendency in this day and age too.

Viola's picture
October 7th, 2008 | Link | I haven't read the book in

I haven't read the book in question, but next time I'm volunteering in the library at my daughter's elementary school, I'm going to see if they have that one. They do have the Beacon Street series. As a fat child reading books geared towards fat children, I found the depictions of fat people unrealistic, and it made me angry or left me feeling defeated. I was tempted into dieting by reading books about girls who were thin, pretty and leading good lives. But the weight loss was never permanent.

BigLiberty's picture
October 7th, 2008 | Link | I agree with perigee. The

I agree with perigee. The results are statistically insignificant. What this study says is that the kids who read the "Lake Rescue" book did not witness change in BMI compared to the other groups.

As for "unhealthy crap" being marketed to kids --- I think the good food/bad food dichotomy is the worst, most damaging idea being marketed to kids right now.

beakergirl October 7th, 2008 | Link | Oh, I would have HATED that

Oh, I would have HATED that when I was a kid (and I was kind of a skinny kid). I sort of hated the "BFF series" books where the girls were (presumably) prettier and richer and more popular than I was. It was just like "rub my face in it, OK?"

I read books about mice and elves and stuff instead. Or books about history.

I read then - and I still read now - for an ESCAPE, for some departure from the ugly reality we all inhabit.

If they started putting "subliminal" diet messages in grownup books...well....I just realized I have something like 4000 books in my house, so I'd be good never having to buy a book again.

Anastasia October 7th, 2008 | Link | why don't we just have them

why don't we just have them read nothing's fair in fifth grade? Sticking out tongue

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