What’s the latest in the war on childhood obesity? A controversial new book about a teen on a diet that targets kids between age 4 and 12. It’s called “Maggie Goes on a Diet.” And it’s about an overweight, insecure 14-year-old who diets down to normal-size, and becomes a soccer star at her school. It’s written in rhyme, and is designed to be read by parents and children together.

But the book has nutritionists and pediatricians up in arms. They say that kids should never go on a diet.  Because children who haven’t passed through puberty run the risk of stunting their growth. Not only that, but kids who get so scared of getting fat that they restrict their calories are more likely to become overweight adults than those who don’t diet as a teen. And in one study we read about, the heaviest women all started dieting before they were 13.

Nutritionist Joanne Ikeda says that highlighting the imperfections of a kid’s body doesn’t empower kids to adopt good eating habits. Instead, it perpetuates the idea that looking less-than-perfect makes you a failure. Which could destroy their self-esteem. And body dissatisfaction is a major risk factor for eating disorders.  

Nutritionist Ikeda points out that weight loss plans like Weight Watchers won’t even allow kids younger than 10 to attend meetings. And kids under 16 can only come if they have a doctor’s note.

Instead, experts recommend that overweight youngsters eat a good, balanced diet, and exercise regularly – so they can “grow into” their weight.

If you – or your child – is overweight, talk to your doctor about the most responsible way of going about it.