I usually equate good books with the building of reading and writing skills, the value of rich, well-written stories and worthwhile, memorable characters, and cultural literacy. A noble, brave, kind character can be an important role model, and even influence behavior.
And “just like us” characters can keep us company, reassure us that we’re OK, and maybe even help us solve our problems. Think Judy Blume, perhaps especially the landmark Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.
But a book that may help young readers lose weight through modeling behavior that is neatly hidden in storyline? This I’d never considered. I’ve never thought books that promoted any agenda, from room-cleaning directives from preachy Berenstain Bears, aka The Berenstain Bears and the Messy Room (A First Time Book) (I know, I know — queue the e-mailed objections) to the raft of pre-election, partisan propaganda that’s popped up between deceptively bright-and-sunny children’s book covers, were generally worthwhile reading. But I now admit some might have useful angles.
According to a bumper crop of news stories on this subject in the past few days, a new study claims kids who read books that promote healthy lifestyle choices such as exercise and good nutrition are more likely to lose extra weight.
Reports the L.A. Times, “A recent study found that after reading a book with underlying messages of getting healthy via physical activity and good nutrition, girls ages 9 to 13 showed a slight decrease in their body mass index.”
The book to which they’re referring, Lake Rescue (Beacon Street Girls, No. 6) by Annie Bryant, is part of the Beacon Street Girls series written for (ack-age guideline coming) preteen girls, and also addresses tough situations like cyber bullying and divorce. Describes the Times: “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.”
So what’s the fact breakdown? Apparently the book’s author (in the most clever marketing ruse I’ve ever heard of) proposed the study, which featured 64 seriously overweight girls already enrolled in Duke University’s Healthy Lifestyles program. They were put into three groups and tracked. One group read no books, one read another Beacon Street Girls book that didn’t deal with health and weight loss issues, and one read “Lake Rescue.”
The Times reports 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%. Well, the progress may have been slight, but it’s noticeable.
And of course, nothing, including a book, is a panacea. Children need support, availability of healthy food and exercise opportunities, and other positive reinforcement to lose weight. After all, the girls in this study were already enrolled in a serious program. But given the onslaught of junk-food commercials and candy-popping peers facing them down every day, I’ll bet the weight loss proposition is harder on children, girls or boys, than it would be for just about anyone else.
If this book helps, this is wonderful. I’d even give my blessing to a Berenstain Bears book that tackled such a tough subject for a younger audience, if it got results for its young readers.