Javier Guardado's mom was concerned-the 11-year-old's eating habits were causing him to gain too much weight. So she decided the whole family needed to make some changes to be more healthful.
"It wouldn't be fair if I told my son we were just going to change what he ate," his mom, Rocio Simental, says. "It has to be change for the whole family."
After visiting with his pediatrician, Dr. Robert Andersen, who explained the consequences of being overweight to Javier, the family now eats fruit for snacks and puts smaller portions on their plates at mealtimes.
It's an urgent issue facing many parents these days. Obesity rates in children have almost tripled in the last 20 years due of a variety of factors, including less exercise and eating too much. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 11 percent of children ages 2 to 5 are overweight, 15 percent of kids 6 to 11 are overweight and 18 percent of adolescents 12 to 19 are overweight.
"It's not news that there is a childhood obesity epidemic in our country, but many parents don't know there are simple, effective steps they can take to make sure their kids-as well as themselves-don't become or stay obese," says Andersen, a pediatrician practicing in the Chicago area and author of The No-Gimmick Guide to Raising Fit Kids.
Andersen offers the following 12 "commandments" for healthful eating for the whole family.
1. Eat together as a family as often as possible. Family meals help develop stronger relationships as well as healthy eating habits. Parents can set an example for the rest of the family.
2. Leave enough time to eat an unhurried, healthy breakfast. Of course, this means you have to go to bed in time to get enough rest before you wake up. Exercise during the day can help make you feel tired at night so you can go to sleep.
3. Drink milk at every meal. Offer skim for anyone over 2, 2 percent for ages 1-2. Studies have shown drinking milk at mealtime decreases the amount of calories you consume.
4. Drink water at each meal; make sure water is available throughout the day. Drinking water can give you the feeling of fullness earlier.
5. Spread food thinly over the plate or use smaller plates. The volume of food makes you feel satisfied, not the caloric density.
6. Chew food quietly and thoroughly. It's not only polite, it allows you to eat more slowly, avoiding overeating.
7. Encourage conversation; keep the TV off. Participating in family dialogue encourages more leisurely eating.
8. Offer second helpings only 20 minutes after a meal starts. This provides time for the "I'm full" message to get to the brain.
9. Don't make special meals for picky eaters unless allergies or other medical conditions need to be considered. Children's internal hunger drive ensures they'll get enough to eat over time.
10. Avoid fast foods as much as possible. But if you must partake, skip soft drinks and fried foods.
11. Avoid refined sugar and deep-fried foods. Deep frying adds fat and calories; sugar triggers insulin surges.
12. Eat fresh vegetables and fruits and unprocessed, high-fiber foods. Avoid foods labeled as "instant," "pre-made," "refined," "bleached."
"Whether or not your child is overweight, these commandments will nudge him or her-and your whole family-down the road toward fitness," Andersen says. "Parents need to take charge of their children's nutrition. They need you to engage them in lifestyle changes that will make everyone healthier."
That's just what Simental did for Javier.
"I told Javier his health is in his hands, mom and dad can't always be there," she says. Since he's taken on the responsibility for his health, he has lost weight and feels better.
Javier says he's proud of himself.
"Being more healthy and losing weight hasn't really been hard to do. I just watch what I eat and how much. I don't have any more second helpings and I am on a swimming team now. I go outside more-I used to stay inside and watch TV, but now I climb trees, ride my bike and skateboard. I feel stronger now and I have more energy."
Karen Ross is a freelance writer and mother of two sons who taught her how to eat healthier; they generally follow all 12 commandments of eating.