Dr. Mary Jo Kutler of Ahwatukee Pediatrics is concerned with the obesity rate in children across America.

The local pediatrician said it has reached epidemic proportions and through a program offered at her office, she'll work to do her part to help.

Kutler and her husband, Shelly Kutler, provide a program for unhealthy or overweight kids that change the way they think about food and exercise. The program, titled TLS (Transitions Lifestyle System) Shape Up, consists of two, six-week classes that teach facts about what certain foods do to the body and how to make healthy eating choices.

"It's not just knowing you have to work out, it's the choices you make during the day that make the difference," she said. "Each week, they learn a concept. The next week we revisit that concept and we teach something new that builds on it."

Kutler said everyone knows that eating a lot of sugar is bad for you, and exercise is important. The program defines how these things affect the body.

"They learn about carbohydrates, proteins, portion control and serving size," she said. "This program defines how carbohydrates, proteins, fats, portion control, serving size and exercise affect the body. It teaches the child how to make healthy choices in school and in the social setting."

Parental involvement is another important aspect. Parents attend the class each week and evolve to become coaches for their children.

"The biggest key for success is the parents," Shelly Kutler said. "The child has to be committed, and the parent does, too. They are the coaches, and we are the mentors."

In some cases, it can have just as much of an effect on the parents as it does on the kids. Colton, 15, and Courtney Zeitler, 13, recently completed the program, which also helped their mother lose 50 pounds.

"Before I started, there was no way I was ever going to change," Colton said. "It's such a feeling of accomplishment. I never thought I could do it back then."

They both said they stayed motivated to keep up with the guidelines and started working out on a regular basis. The program also required them to keep a daily journal, which included their moods, their exercise routine, and the feelings they had about eating and exercise.

"The program teaches you a lot, and the knowledge you learn helps you make good choices as you go through life," Courtney said.

Every four weeks Kutler does a weight check and measures waist, hips, chest and biceps.

"The biggest thing for them is when they tell us they've gone down a clothing size," Kutler said.

There is also a program just for adults. To find out more, contact Kutler at (480) 496-6444. Ahwatukee Pediatrics is located at 15715 S. 46th St.

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