The home environment should be conducive to good habits: a fruit bowl on the kitchen counter, cut-up vegetables in the fridge, jump-ropes in the garage, a basketball hoop in the driveway. Lake advises introducing healthful foods again and again even if a child refuses to eat them, since research shows it may take 10 to 12 sightings before a picky eater lifts fork to mouth. And he recommends against enforcing a clean-plate rule, pointing out that toddlers up to age 4 naturally and wisely regulate their own intake and that older kids eat out of habit, even if they're feeling full. "Parents should choose when to eat and what to eat, while a child should choose when to stop," says Lake.
Experts also emphasize the importance of fostering a positive body image since, according to the Minnesota data, 46 percent of teenage girls and 26 percent of boys are dissatisfied with the way they look. Parents should both avoid making negative comments about their own bodies and put a stop to any teasing (box, Page 65). They should also discuss healthful behaviors without focusing too much on size or body fat. Liza Miller, a lean and sprightly 10-year-old, shows the level of understanding that parents might wish to achieve. (Her father, Dirk Miller, heads the Emily Program, a private eating disorders or-ganization that runs the Anna Westin House.) She ha s trained herself to say no at slumber parties to bowls of potato chips and ice cream. And she has made a firm decision not to use celebrities as role models. Witness the sign posted on her bedroom door: "I won't allow people like Nicole Richie to make me feel fat."
Clarified on 9/19/07: This story states that 17 percent of kids are now obese, which means they're at or above the 95th percentile for weight in relation to height. The reason that a greater percentage of kids now fall into the "top 5 percent" category is that the standard measurement charts that define obesity were created using data from the 1960s and '70s when kids weighed less than they do now.