Reading just might be the ticket to weight loss for some overweight tween girls. In one study, 31 obese girls ages 9 to 13 years enrolled in the Healthy Lifestyles Program at Duke University’s Children’s Hospital were tasked with reading the novel Lake Rescue. Researchers described it as an age-appropriate book in which the overweight heroine, has to deal with issues of low self esteem, isolation and gets teased over her size. Another 33 girls, also enrolled in the Lifestyles Program, were asked to read the novel Charlotte in Paris, a novel that does not have an overweight heroine. Fourteen more girls served as a control group and did not read either book.
After six months, readers of Lake Rescue saw a .71 percentile decrease in their body mass index (BMI is a ratio of weight to height that measures obesity) compared to the girls in the control group who’s BMI increased by .05% percentile. The decrease in BMI maybe small but researchers found it promising as BMI usually increases rapidly in overweight children as they grow and develop. A decrease in BMI signals either a weight loss or an increase in height without weight gain – both are seen as good news. A healthy BMI for girls in this age group is between 16 and 19; the girls in this study had a BMI of 27 to 28. (FYI – A BMI of 30 or over is considered obese even in adults.)
What made all the difference? Lake Rescue offered a positive heroine who readers could easily relate to and emulate. Through the course of the novel the heroine learns how to make healthier lifestyle choices and gains a mentor. Also, the book’s tone was personable as opposed to authoritative. While this study offers slim evidence of a direct correlation between weight loss and reading, it is does provide yet another reason to encourage young women, especially those not particularly interested in athletics, to choose novels with positive female characters.