Maria Sanz, mother of four, wanted a fun fitness journal for her kids that would push them to live healthy, smart lives. When she couldn't find...

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MIAMI — Maria Sanz, mother of four, wanted a fun fitness journal for her kids that would push them to live healthy, smart lives. When she couldn’t find one, she created it.

Along with friend Marycel Diaz, Sanz is now publisher of Be Fit Kids, a bimonthly sports and fitness magazine that targets kids 8 to 14. Created two years ago, the magazine has a circulation of 25,000.

The glossy magazine satisfies kids’ hero worship of professional athletes by featuring a high-profile jock on the cover. The August/September issue had New York Yankee Alex “A-Rod” Rodriguez on the front, with the pitcher granting a quick interview with a local 10-year-old inside.

Cover celebrities have included Miami Heat center Shaquille O’Neal, tennis star Serena Williams, Tour de France legend Lance Armstrong and soccer star Mia Hamm.

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But while superstars have their place in the 50-page magazine, most of the articles are written about kids.

“We always have a professional athlete on the cover — that way kids want to pick it up and read it,” Sanz says. “But we want to provide kids with different alternatives. Maybe they don’t like baseball or running or swimming; we show them different aspects of the game, and we profile two or three student athletes. We try to show that you don’t have to be best on the team, that what’s important is that you make the effort to get out there and play.”

Inside a recent issue: an interview with pro volleyball player Kerri Walsh, stories on flag football and kids’ cross-country running, and step-by-step photos that show how to do five morning exercises, such as squats and shoulder rotations. There are also articles on how to pick a healthy lunch at school, a dozen ways to study smarter and how to snack right.

Information

Be Fit Kids: www.befitkidsmagazine.com

“We believe it’s often good for kids to read about this themselves and make their own decisions,” says Sanz, the mother of a boy, 17, a girl, 12, and twin boys, 10.

Fighting childhood obesity

The magazine’s motto is “Fighting Childhood Obesity One Kid at a Time.”

Obesity in children 6 to 11 years has quadrupled in the past 25 years and doubled for adolescents, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Today, three out of every 10 American children are overweight, according to the American Obesity Association, with the highest rates occurring among African American, Hispanic and Native American children.

Obese kids often develop early health problems, such as diabetes and heart disease, and are most likely to become obese adults, with continued medical problems and shorter life spans. Researchers fear obesity may soon top smoking as the nation’s most preventable cause of death.

Sanz, who grew up on a horse farm, says she’s as guilty as most working parents when it comes to lack of exercise and poor eating habits. She was a full-time horse breeder before taking on the role of publisher.

“I don’t always make the wisest food choices, and I am not as physically active as I should be,” Sanz admits. “My daily ‘workout’ consists of climbing aboard my SUV and driving my kids to school, to the library, to the tutor’s house, to basketball practice, to piano recitals.”

Important choices

Says Diaz, who has two boys, ages 11 and 13: “The worst thing for a mother and father who both work is that there is no time to cook at home. McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Burger King — those are the easiest choices. But we try to teach kids the importance of the choices they make. We don’t say, ‘You can’t go to McDonald’s anymore,’ but we educate them to make healthier choices.

“Kids are kids,” says Diaz, a former hotel advertising coordinator. “They’re going to eat a cookie here and there. The question is, ‘How often do you eat those things?’ It’s not about gaining a pound and losing a pound. It’s about staying fit.”

The magazine’s editor-in-chief, Alfred M. Meneses, an assistant school principal and Diaz’s husband, writes some of the features and uses stories from freelancers around the U.S.

A “Just for Parents” section in the back aims to educate parents about the importance of eating and exercising right. A recent issue included an article on childhood obesity by Roberto Salazar, administrator of the USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service, as well as tips on finding a good coach for your kids.

A Teacher Resource Guide, which can be downloaded from the magazine’s Web site, gives teachers a chance to use the magazine in lesson plans.

Sanz and Diaz, who oversee a staff of five, plan to launch a Spanish version of the magazine sometime next year and are searching for more advertisers so they can increase distribution.

“Our ultimate goal is to provide every school-age child in America — and eventually Latin America — with a copy,” Sanz says.