IÂ’m a huge supporter of government providing the incentive for healthy beÂ-haviors. But before such measures can be effective, people first have to start giving a damn about the childhood and adult obesity epidemic in this country. What does get peopleÂ’s attention? Try «Maggie Goes on a Diet.»

The book, written by Paul M. Kramer, has yet to be released but has already stirred up a controversy on social meÂ-dia websites because it targets female readers as young as 8 with a message that, I think, is actually intended to give solace and encouragement to girls dealing with obesity. The description on Amazon.com reads: «This book is about a 14-year-old girl who goes on a diet and is transformed from being extremely overweight and insecure to a normal sized girl who becomes the school soccer star. Through time, exercise and hard work, Maggie becomes more and more confident and develops a posiÂ-tive self-image.»

The cover – on which an overÂ-weight girl with a small-sized pink dress stares longingly into a mirror image of a thin girl – reinforces the well-accepted attitude that obesity is primarily an imÂ-age issue rather than a health issue.

This false collective belief keeps peoÂ-ple from taking a killer disease seriously and instead characterizes attempts to combat a legitimate medical crisis as more evidence that society pressures women, men and children to be an «ideal» size or shape. Once people start talking about obesity in terms of whether anyone should be expected to be thin, thereÂ’s little appetite for rerouting the conÂ-versation to whether society should accept succumbing to a 100 percent preventable disease.

ItÂ’s easier to be outraged about a male authorÂ’s attitudes toward a fictionÂ-al 14-year-oldÂ’s self-image issues than it is to ponder public health policy. But consider that nothing is harder to look at than a child who canÂ’t walk down the block without being completely windÂ-ed, a teen who has to prick his fingers every other day to measure his blood sugar or an adult who must live a shortÂ-ened life span on drugs to control her heart rhythm or blood pressure.

Esther Cepeda is a columnist for the Washington Post Writers Group.


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