Fit for Summer

Weighing in on weight loss camps.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, childhood obesity affects approximately 12.5 million children and teens in the United States. That’s 17 percent of that population. If your children are struggling with weight, want to get in shape and increase their self-confidence, you may want to consider weight-loss camp. Specialized weight-loss camps attempt to revise this statistic and help end this epidemic that is destroying our youth.

Not only are obese children more likely to develop serious life-threatening conditions later in life, including heart disease, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes, but they also suffer from social and emotional issues, such as being ostracized by classmates and suffering from low self-esteem. The psychological effects of being overweight can often be as harmful as the physical repercussions.

In most cases, children shouldn’t be forced into attending weight-loss camp, as their own motivating factors are essential to long-term success. Kids should understand that it’s not about punishment. Any reputable camp motivates and encourages campers in non-judgmental and positive ways. The experience should be an exciting adventure rather than a place of dread; one where kids can have fun, meet new friends and, most of all, enjoy themselves.

It’s important to keep in mind that there are many different types of weight-loss camps, ranging from those operated on private camp facilities, to those that are hosted on college university campuses. Also, certain weight-loss camps are more clinical and severe in nature, focusing primarily on numbers, whereas others offer a more mainstream camp environment. The most important factor, though, is a well-rounded program that combines delightful activities with the weight-loss process. In other words, is your child going to have a good time and come home feeling proud of his efforts?

When looking for a camp, it’s best to have a clear understanding of the education provided to your child, the levels of activity expected and the goal-setting techniques used to track progress. If you feel uncomfortable with any aspect of the camp or feel that it doesn’t match your child’s personality, keep searching.

Weight-loss camps are not like the movie Heavyweights, where Ben Stiller’s character deprives and starves the children, pushing them into inhumane and extreme conditions that would make any mother cringe. Rather, they are designed to teach kids how to get in shape in a fun manner.

Campers find that support systems, structured programs, professional guidance and peer encouragement are the elements of camp that help them slim down. Being surrounded by those who think, act and look like themselves, children are able to forget about numbers on the scale. “I have so much more self-confidence. Girls definitely look at me differently!” says Max Truen, who was featured in People magazine for losing 121 pounds over his six years at weight-loss camp. Bethany, another camper, proudly states, “Camp truly changed my life, and my mother says that I am totally different now. I’m stronger, I have more friends, and I just love life.”

When it comes to staff, camp typically includes registered dieticians, athletic trainers, nutritionists as well as past campers turned counselors. “Camp is about having fun, trying new things, meeting new people, and feeling good about yourself. It’s not all about numbers,” says Nicole Selinsky, RD, LD, a well-known summer camp dietician. She explains that many programs seek to provide an environment that promotes health, wellness, integrity and learning while simultaneously allowing kids to enjoy themselves.

The most successful camps teach children realistic and achievable tools to maintain and continue their goals after summer ends. Counselors should contact the campers throughout the year to praise their success and support their continued efforts. When a child loses weight, he or she often improves academically as well as socially. With the proper environment, tools and support system, every child can lose weight and keep it off.