Diet book for kids blasted for giving "dangerous" advice

Maggie Goes on a Diet, by Paul Kramer
maggie goes on a diet, paul kramer, childhood obesity, diet
Maggie Goes on a Diet, by Paul Kramer

(CBS) A new children's book on one girl's struggle with obesity is cooking up controversy.

Maggie Goes on a Diet, by Paul Kramer, tells the tale of an insecure 14-year-old who sheds excess weight through diet, hard work, and exercise. The book isn't scheduled to be published until October, but retailers are taking preorders - and a whole lot of negative comments from people who fear the book might influence kids to have eating disorders.

"PLEASE!!! If anyone has a heart get this book banned!" one user, wrote on "This dangerous belief could encourage bullying and foster eating disorders," added another.

Kramer defended his book to ABC News."My intentions were just to write a story to entice and to have children feel better about themselves, discover a new way of eating, learn to do exercise, try to emulate Maggie and learn from Maggie's experience," he told Good Morning America. "Children are pretty smart ... they will make a good choice if you give them that opportunity."

What do childhood obesity experts have to say?

Dr. Andrea Vazzana, clinical assistant professor of child and adolescent psychiatry at NYU Langone Medical Center, told CBS News that she thought the book had one positive in that it brought attention to how young kids are teased over their weight - but added she was "startled" to learn the book was aimed at young children.

"I think that's just too young," she said. "Even if a child at that age is overweight, a 4-to 8-year-old can't do much about it without the parent's help."

So what's the right way to get a child to lose weight?

Dr. Alyson B. Goodman, pediatrician and medical epidemiologist with the CDC, told CBS News in an email that the onus should be put on parents.

Goodman said parents should serve as role models at home by serving up lots of fruits and vegetables while limiting fatty, sugary foods. "Parents can also limit screen time - including television, video games and computers - to help reduce sedentary time and avoid exposure to food advertising," she said.

Vazzana agreed parents should have a major role, but cautioned that a talk about weight could may not be effective, and the child can tune out the parent's message. "Rather than a big talk, seize opportunities as they come up to talk about healthy living," she said. Vazzana suggests turning that conversation into a "family project" where the whole family eats healthier, since overweight kids often have overweight siblings and parents.

What do you think? Is obesity off-limits in children's books?