By Heather Adams of Columbia Faith & Values
At 12 years old, Summer Davis was frustrated with the amount of weight she had gained.
“I started getting really annoyed and mad at myself for being overweight,” she said.
She began researching weight loss tips online when she stumbled across the website for a camp near St. Louis: Camp Jump Start, a weight loss camp for 10- to 18-year-olds. “I realized you have to work hard instead of taking a pill or doing some weird thing to lose weight fast – you have to actually work hard,” Davis said.
She ordered an informational DVD and sat down with her parents to talk about her options for going.
Each week costs about $1,000, and each session is four weeks long. Campers can attend two sessions per summer. The camp includes exercise programs, a safe environment, air-conditioned cabins and child/parent education.
Davis’ family started saving money, and this summer, Davis went to camp.
Jean Huelsing, a registered nurse and fitness practitioner, started the camp with her husband using their retirement money. She had seen too many children in hospitals struggling with serious weight-related issues.
“We saw 8-year-olds with strokes, 20-year-olds having heart attacks, and now we’re aware of a 14-year-old girl who has a bilateral – mastectomy all related to obesity,” she said. “Obesity is our new epidemic, and we have to pay attention to it because it is going to be the downfall of all of our health care.”
Huelsing said campers usually lose about 7 to 10 percent of their body weight each four weeks they are at camp.
Exercise is presented as fun and is no longer a “dirty” word for campers. During their stay, campers do activities such as kayaking, swimming, biking, running, aerobics and yoga.
This summer, as a whole, campers lost a combined 2,514 pounds, and they took a combined total of more than 9 hours off their mile run times.
Forty-four campers arrived with signs of diabetes, but 24 left without any signs, and the other 20 all improved. “Kids live for today – they don’t see the consequences for decisions from today,” Huelsing said. “That’s why they have adults put into their life, so that we can protect them and guide them.”
But when it comes to physical fitness, that guidance gets difficult – Huelsing said many adults don’t have education in nutrition and physical activity.
Camper Madeline Appel, 11, said she like exercising at camp better than at school because camp counselors set an example by playing games alongside campers – unlike her P.E. teachers, who she sees sitting down drinking soda while the students exercise.
“They all get into the game and they encourage us to play and they’re playing with us,” Appel said. “It’s cool how they’re just not sitting on the bleachers saying, like, ‘Lets go!’ ‘Get a move on it!’ They’re actually playing the game with us.”
But one thing the camp doesn’t have is an indoor gym – and Huelsing said that makes things difficult. Campers sometimes have to do their aerobics inside buildings that have concrete floors and very little space.
Huelsing knows the concrete floors could hurt the campers’ knees in the future. But she also knows that if these children don’t lose weight, many of them might not make it to 30 years old.
“I have to look at the lesser of the two evils and make that choice,” Huelsing said. “I wish I didn’t have to make that choice.”
The gym could cost up to $2.5 million, but Huelsing said she has to trust in her faith that she will be provided with what she needs.
Along with physical health, Camp Jump Start also addresses mental and emotional health. Campers are given a happiness-life survey before and after camp. Each camper surveyed this summer showed improvements in liking themselves better after camp.
Huelsing said about 5 percent of campers who have come to the camp have previously attempted suicide, but she doesn’t know of any suicide attempts that have been made after children attend Camp Jump Start. She said it’s important for kids to feel like they are worth taking care of.
“Who knows what they’re going to do in life,” Huelsing said. “They might be the kid who goes to Mars. They might be the kid who finds the cure to cancer. They might be the kid who’s able to cure our whole society and find world peace. I have no idea what they can do, but I know that it will be pretty important.”
Another part of camp is the spiritual side. On Sundays, campers can sign up for Reflections on the Water, a time for camper-led worship. Campers of all religions are encouraged to participate and share.
Many times, campers use their faith for encouragement in their weight loss journey. Appel’s grandma sent her a new Bible to encourage her at camp.
“The first night I prayed to go home because I didn’t want to stay here,” Appel said. “Then, kind of in a way, God told me that I didn’t want to go home, and he told me that if I went home that I wouldn’t be successful.”
She lost 12 pounds during her first four weeks.
But more important than the numbers, both Appel and Davis are excited about their new lifestyle. They made plans to go shopping for a new wardrobe after camp. Davis planned to shop at Hollister, while Appel wanted clothes from Von Maur’s teen section.
Teens trade pounds for self-esteem at the camps that offer tools for lasting success.
By Jean Weiss for MSN Health & Fitness
NBA star Shaquille O’Neal’s reality show, “Shaq’s Big Challenge,” has garnered attention of late — no doubt inspiring millions of kids to sit in front of the television with snacks for yet another episode. But the show’s premise, that a boot camp for overweight teens can transform bad habits inspires the question: Does this approach work?
Preliminary studies suggest that in some cases, it does — especially when camps offer campers the skills they need to create lasting change.
Ask an expert
Child obesity experts hesitate to speak on the success rate of fitness boot camps, unless anecdotally, because there is limited scientific evidence either way. However, Dr. James Hill, director of the Center for Human Nutrition in Denver and editor of the professional journal Obesity Management, reports that a study to be published in their December 2007 issue shows that campers not only experience weight loss at camp, but continue weight loss after returning home.
“I am cautiously impressed,” Hill says of the study, which examined the progress of campers attending the Wellspring Camps program, which operates in several states. “They produce impressive weight loss, maintained for a long period of time.”
Hill attributes the positive results to the fact that the camp is able to create an environment in which the child can relearn behavioral patterns. “We’ve unintentionally created a society with food everywhere and not enough opportunity for exercise,” he says. “The camps are doing what I wish we could do in our homes and our schools and our community. They take control of everything. I wish these camps weren’t necessary, but the fact is kids aren’t getting what they need in their current environment.”
An approach that works
Wellspring isn’t the only camp reporting long-term weight reduction in its campers. Washington University Medical Center is evaluating data from another camp that claims similar successes: Camp Jump Start, a program founded by Tom and Jean Huelsing that operates near St. Louis. According to Huelsing — who presented her camp’s success last year at the National Initiative for Children’s Health Care Quality in Washington, D.C. — Camp Jump Start has documented significant weight loss by attendees during camp and also the year following camp, thanks in large part to a free interactive Web site that helps the kids monitor their progress and stick to their program once they leave camp.
Scrolling through camper testimonials on Camp Jump Start’s Web site can be quite moving. The campers and their parents agree that a weight loss camp can offer a life-changing experience.
“When the kids come to camp, they won’t look at you — they won’t initiate conversation, they are slumped forward, looking down,” Huelsing says. “When they leave, they walk shoulders back, heads held high.”
Camp Jump Start campers are age 9 to 17 and come for either a four- or eight-week program. An effective program like Camp Jump Start teaches the children about nutrition, portion size and genetics, helps build self-esteem, and offers fun physical activities. Campers learn how to monitor their own progress through journaling as well as how to form an eating plan; they also role-play scenarios they may encounter once back home, such as how to navigate a trip to McDonald’s with a group of friends.
Meanwhile, camper parents receive their own homework, get tips on cleaning out their pantries and refrigerators, and learn how they can best support their child’s goals upon return from camp.
“We work out a contract between the child, the camp, and their family,” says Huelsing. “Then I tell parents to no longer take the responsibility. It is the child’s life. They are now responsible.”
Ask a Happy Camper
One need look no further than 14-year-old high school freshman Aaron Klopfer to be convinced that a boot camp can lead to long-term lifestyles changes for an overweight teen. Klopfer found Camp Jump Start two years ago as a seventh grader while surfing online. “I wanted to be different for high school,” he said. “I needed to do something drastic.” In the summer of 2006, Klopfer weighed in at 232 pounds.
Klopfer went for four weeks the first summer, losing 17 pounds. More remarkably, he lost 45 pounds after returning home. And there were more changes. He went from nearly failing sixth and seventh grades to becoming an honor roll student in eighth grade.
He so inspired his teachers and classmates he was invited to give their e eighth grade graduation speech. He convinced his mom to send him to camp a second summer, even though Huelsing encourages kids to come just once. He learned how to ride a bike for the first time. He returned home and joined his high school football team.
“The camp motivated me,” says Klopfer, who now weighs 168 pounds. “I was sick of being overweight. The best thing it did for me is make me feel good about myself, so I could keep off the weight.”
Once Klopfer started losing weight and feeling happy — perhaps for the first time in his life — the rest fell into place from there.
© MSN Healthy Living
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IMPERIAL – It rained in June on the first day of Camp Jump Start, ruining outdoor activities and provoking tears in a few kids who didn’t want to be there. By the next time it rained — in the seventh week of camp — there were cheers, hugs and dancing on the field as the dodge ball game played on.
The 100 youngsters who attended camp this summer lost pounds, reversed diabetes and shaved minutes off their mile run. Most importantly, they’ll tell you, they found a refuge from the bullying they endure as overweight kids.
“Where I’m from, I’m hated for being fat,” said Rodrigo Garza, 16, of Cancun, Mexico. “This is the only place where I can have friends and have a good time.”
Like any summer campers, the boys and girls have their disagreements and heartbreaks. But nobody is judged by their looks.
The wallflowers belt out karaoke songs. Boys feel comfortable taking off their T-shirts to swim. A few teenagers learned how to ride a bike for the first time.
The camp menu totals between 1,400 and 1,600 calories a day. The daily activities are workouts masquerading as recess — dodge ball, handball, soccer. After a four-week session of camp, most campers lose 7 percent to 10 percent of their body weight.
The camp was founded in 2003 by Jean Huelsing, a registered nurse, and her husband, Tom, a personal trainer. Revenues from the camp fund the Living Well Village, where they also host wellness retreats.
“I believe I save more lives doing this than I ever did in the hospital as a nurse,” Jean Huelsing said.
The Huelsings face serious challenges in their fight against childhood obesity. The camp, which costs about $1,000 a week, is only a little more than half full. More than 20 of the kids have diabetes. Almost the same number have asthma. Up to one-third of the campers wet their beds at night, a probable side effect of sleep apnea.
And then there are the parents who try to sabotage their kids’ success.
Some hide candy in their kids’ suitcases. Others want to come rescue their child at any sign of distress. Huelsing gets 60 emails a day from parents with questions and concerns.
“They don’t want their kids to be uncomfortable, but life is uncomfortable,” she said.
For the first time, two campers dropped out early.
PARENTS CAN BE HARMFUL
Huelsing worries that the kids with over-protective parents are less capable of making their own decisions about their health, especially if other family members are also overweight. Still, she sends them home after a four- or eight-week session with a good grasp of appropriate portion sizes and other nutritional information.
“They’ve all been given the tools. They can change their habits. They have the power to do that now,” she said.
Paige Firester, 14, has spent four summers at Camp Jump Start. She gained back the weight she lost last year when her father was diagnosed with cancer a few months after she returned home to Georgia. It didn’t help that the kitchen counters were covered in junk food every Friday night when her parents played poker.
This year, Paige is determined to get the whole family healthy, and they started by signing up for gym memberships together.
“We did it as a family; we’re going to get out of it as a family,” Paige said. “I already told them to clean the fridge out and get the ice cream out.”
The camp is structured so the kids can’t cheat. When they get home, their self-control will be tested with temptations everywhere.
Rodrigo plans to adapt Mexican recipes to reduce the fat and calories. Jack Haselhorst, a 13-year-old from Ballwin, will avoid the television and instead go running when he gets bored. For Evan Johnson, 13, of Kirkwood, it’s trying not to be jealous of a brother who can eat anything and not gain weight.
EFFECTIVE ALL YEAR
Camp counselors prove that the Camp Jump Start lifestyle can work year-round. Zoë Kennison, 20, of St. Louis, was 210 pounds when she came to camp in 2009. She lost 30 pounds as a camper and another 50 at home, including 15 during her freshman year in the dorms at Webster University where she put herself on a strict one-plate, no-fried-foods policy at meals.
“I set rules for myself, and I don’t break them,” Kennison said. “Eating healthy is my passion.”
Huelsing and the counselors keep in touch with campers and their families through the year with conference calls and an online community.
Brooke Sagerty of St. Charles said that follow-up support helped her teenage daughter, Riley, lose an additional 44 pounds in the last year after attending Camp Jump Start (where she lost her first 26 pounds).
“So many parents feel hopeless about getting their children on track to being healthy,” Sagerty said. “There is help out there, good help with passionate people who truly want these children to be healthy. My daughter is proof of it, physically and emotionally.”
Riley is at camp again this summer and wants to be a counselor some day. Many of the campers are return visitors, including some who still have weight to lose and others who want to reinforce healthy habits.
They’re welcomed back either way.
“There’s a lot to be said for having a safe place in your life. They don’t come back to be judged,” Huelsing said. “They come back to get back on track.”
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Jean Huelsing, RNa, Nadim Kanafani, MDb, Jingnan Mao, MSc, Neil H. White, MD, CDEb,c
Objective: Residential weight-loss camps offer an opportunity for overweight and obese children to lose weight in a medically safe, supervised, supportive environment. The purpose of this report is to describe short-term outcomes in 76 children participating in a 4- or 8-week residential weight-loss camp for children and adolescents.
Patients and Methods: The camp program enrolled obese 10- to 18-year-old adolescents. The program consisted of structured and nonstructured physical activities and group educational sessions covering nutrition, physical fitness, and self-esteem. A diet plan of 3 balanced meals and 2 snacks per day was prepared under the supervision of a registered dietitian. Participants had height, weight, and blood pressure measured and performed a 1-mile run at maximum effort on an outdoor track.
Results: For all campers, statistically significant (P < .0001) reductions were observed for BMI, BMI z score, systolic blood pressure, body weight, and 1-mile run times. Compared with campers in the 4-week session, campers in the 8-week session had greater reductions in BMI, BMI z score, body weight, and systolic blood pressure. Multivariate analysis revealed that gender was a significant predictor for reduction in body weight, BMI, and BMI z score, all of which decreased more in boys than in girls. Conclusions: This report adds to the evidence that residential weight-loss camps are highly effective in improving measures of health and fitness among overweight and obese children and adolescents. Additional study is needed on the long-term effects of such camps in terms of weight maintenance, behavior change, and metabolic and health outcomes.
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