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Parents Hold the Key to Children's Fitness Success

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This is about exercising for health, though, not exercising to achieve some advertising ideal. Satter emphasizes the need for parents to let children find their natural body weight, which can vary as they grow. And don't overreact if your child gains a few pounds, because some kids naturally gain a little weight, for instance, right before the onset of puberty or a growth spurt. Koenning says respect the child's "developmental stages. To help prevent excessive weight gain and obesity before it develops, keep exercise enjoyable.

Buechner tells WebMD that her program also places an emphasis on proper nutrition, but within a healthy eating environment. "We don't focus so much as on what to eat, but on how to eat well as a family ... we strongly emphasize family meals in our program," Buechner tells WebMD.

Satter couldn't agree more; family meals are central to her philosophy. "If you're going to optimize your child's nutrition, if you're going to give him the very greatest chance that he possibly can of growing up to get the body that is right for him or her, that absolutely mandates family meals; that's the bottom line," Satter tells WebMD.

An important part of structured meals and snack times, according to both Buechner and Satter, is they teach kids to regulate their own eating habits. Part of that comes down to limits and responsibility, Satter tells WebMD.

Allowing kids to eat between scheduled meals and snacks can sabotage the process, both Buechner and Satter say.

Some formal, regimented diets "do not teach them the skills of 'normal' eating," Koenning tells WebMD. "When you're directed as to what you should eat instead of finding how to balance your choices of health and pleasure, you're not developing the skills you need to maintain it."

So, if a child is overweight, is it always the parent's fault? Though parents are always willing to take the blame, says Satter, that's too simple. Cultural changes also apply pressure, say experts, such as a business world that places productivity over nurturing, kids spending too much time alone, and even communities designing subdivisions without sidewalks.

"In my experience, parents do the best they can," says Satter. Buechner agrees, saying "in terms of obesity at any age, the causes are multifactorial."

But that doesn't let the parent off the hook. Yes, it's a team effort, but the parent remains the coach. "Child obesity can be prevented from birth on by optimizing the child's nutritional and physical environment. That's really key," says Satter.

From a parent to parents, Beasley has this advice: "[You] have to be willing to commit yourself to helping your child and I don't know any parent that's not willing to do that, and that's all this is."

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