Weighing in on weight loss camps
As summer is fast approaching, you are probably beginning to think about how to keep your kids occupied. If your child is struggling with weight (whether it’s 10 pounds or 100 pounds), wants to get in shape, and increase their self-confidence, you may want to consider weight loss camp. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently reported that childhood obesity affects approximately 12.5 million children and teens in the United States (17% of that population). Specialized weight loss camps attempt to revise this statistic and help end the childhood obesity epidemic that is destroying our youth.
How being overweight affects children
Not only are obese children more likely to develop serious life-threatening conditions later in life, such as heart disease, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and type 2 diabetes, but they also suffer from social and emotional issues, such as ostracization from classmates, stigmatization, and low self-esteem. The psychological stress of being heavy can often be as harmful as the physical repercussions. Being overweight can lead to discrimination, depression, and bullying from classmates. If this sounds like your child, you should discuss with them the idea of attending a summer weight loss camp to have fun, get fit, and meet like-minded kids their own age.
How to know if your child’s ready for camp
In most cases, children shouldn’t be forced into attending weight loss camp against their will, as their own motivating factors are essential to being successful in the long-term. They should be made to understand that it’s not about “punishment;” any reputable camp will motivate and encourage campers in non-judgmental and positive ways. Weight loss camp should be an exciting adventure rather than a place of dread. It should be a place where your 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 (which sometimes house multiple summer camps concurrently). Also, certain weight loss camps are more clinical and severe in nature, focusing primarily on numbers, whereas others offer a more mainstream camp environment that is more well-rounded. The most important factor, though, is a well rounded program that includes fun camp activities along with the weight loss process. In other words, is your child going to have a good time and come home feeling proud of themselves and their efforts?
Here are some important points to keep in mind when choosing a weight loss camp:
- How is the facility structured and run? Are there separate facilities for boys and girls? A different swimming pool for each gender to ease discomfort?
- Conduct interviews with several different camps to see how they compare.
- Ask the director for references from former campers.
- What activities does the camp offer? Pay attention to your child's interests and personality (are they into sports, drama, singing, are they outgoing, etc.).
- How many children are in your child’s age group, as different camps vary tremendously in size?
- How many camps does the company run? In other words, is there a personal touch at the camp? Does the director/owner personally interact with the kids?
- Does the camp have an ACA accreditation? An ACA accreditation ensures that the camp has regular, independent safety audits that go beyond regulations in most states. To be accredited, camps must first comply with up to 26 mandatory prerequisite health and safety standards and must demonstrate substantial compliance with up to forty additional standards in ten operational areas. ACA standards cover all aspects of camp operation, including: programming, personnel, health care, management practices, site/food service, and transportation.
- What is the ratio of counselors to campers?
- How much “downtime” are the kids given to socialize and unwind?
As a parent, 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. It is also important for you to understand the role your family will play when your child returns home. Parents are responsible for upholding the concepts kids learn and should set good examples upon their return home.
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 have fun and get in shape at the same time. The activities and campuses often include sports, swimming, dances, field trips, and instructional classes.
How weight loss camps succeed
Many campers find that support systems, structured programs, professional guidance, and peer encouragement are the most effective tools when trying to slim down. Being surrounded by those who think, act, and look like themselves, children are able to forget about numbers on the scale.
Max Truen, featured in People Magazine for being “half his size” (121 pounds lost over his six years at camp), says, “I have so much more self-confidence. Girls definitely look at me differently!” Another camper, Bethany, 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.”
The camps should teach kids why they are living unhealthy lifestyles and how they can change not only their body, but their attitudes. Campers learn about nutrition, exercise, and behavioral habits and combine this knowledge with healthy diets and active lifestyles. They are taught to become aware of their eating habits (such as portion sizes) as well as their activity levels. In these environments, children learn that they’re in control of their own destiny.
Camp staff typically includes registered dieticians, athletic trainers, nutritionists, as well as past-campers turned counselors. Nicole Selinsky (RD/LD), a well-known summer camp dietician, says, “Camp is about having fun, trying new things, meeting new people, and feeling good about yourself. It’s not all about numbers.” She explains that many camps 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 the summer has ended. Camp staff should contact the campers throughout the year to praise their success and encourage their continued efforts. When a child loses weight, he or she often improves academic performance in school, as well as day-to-day social interactions with peers, parents, and teachers. In the right environment, with the right tools and support system, everyone can successfully lose weight.
Tony Sparber is the founder/owner of two ACA Accredited New Image Camps: Camp Pocono Trails, PA and Camp Vanguard, FL. New Image Camps are designed to provide the most comprehensive summer weight-loss program for pre-teens and teenagers in the country. Camp Pocono Trails has been featured on two MTV documentaries, "Fat Camp" and "Return to Fat Camp," as well as on Ruby, Good Morning America, Dr. Phil, The Today Show, and in the pages of People Magazine, and The New York Times, among others. For additional information call 1-800-365-0556 or visit newimagecamp.com.