A Look at Fat-Camp

You always hear about fat-camps—are they real? Or just ominous boogiemen used to keep overweight children on their toes? Well, apparently they do exist. Ibby Caputo of The Chicago Tribune offers up an in depth look at one weight-loss camp in upstate New York. Take a look:
There are dozens of camps scattered about the country. Most take both boys and girls, and all insist that they provide as much fun as regular camps.


At Camp Shane, for instance, traditional activities such as hiking, swimming and arts and crafts are augmented with nutrition and cooking classes, as well as a cognitive behavioral therapy program that strives to teach campers tools for successful weight management.

Campers learn to record their food intake and amount of exercise, as well as keep a journal about their thoughts and feelings in the process.

Many kids who go to these camps have spent agonizing years being picked on by their peers and sometimes even their siblings and parents. Often, they internalize these comments, something that does not help them take off the weight.

"We create who we are by the reaction of others toward us," said Larry Larsen, a child psychologist in Andover, Mass. "If our peers tell us we are fat, it becomes part of our self-concept of who we are."

But at weight-loss camps, kids join others who are dealing with the same issues. This exposure, camp officials say, often leads to creation of a supportive community.
I’m torn. On one hand, I think fostering a nurturing supportive environment is a good thing, but, I’m not really in favor of carting overweight children off to a place for the purposes of “fixing” them. And I’m not so sure Dr. Fuhrman would think this is a great strategy either.

In Dr. Fuhrman’s opinion the best place to teach kids to eat right and live well is at home. Why? Because it’s good for the whole family! Here’s more from Disease-Proof Your Child:
1. Keep only healthy food in the house. Every person in the household should have the same food choices available.


2. Offer and feed a wholesome diversity of natural foods, vegetables, beans, raw nuts, seeds, and fresh fruit, while giving each child as much latitude as possible to eat what they prefer.

3. Don't attempt to manage your children's caloric intake. They can do that on their own.

4. If you, as parents, do not demonstrate proper respect for your own bodies by eating healthy, exercising regularly, and engaging in other healthful lifestyle practices, don't expect your children to do any better than you, now or in the future.

5. Educate your children about their nutritional needs and the importance of eating healthfully. Start this when they are young and continue to reinforce their learning, as they will be exposed to more toxic food choices as they get older and spend more time out of their home.

It is important to realize that it is never too late to teach your children the importance of eating healthy. As you learn, share enthusiastically with them. Work on improving your diets together. If your child is a teenager, let her read what you are reading. You may want to add that it will help their complexion and body shape. Even teenagers will make beneficial improvements in their diets when presented with compelling reasons. I have lectured to high school assemblies many times and am always impressed by how interested, enthusiastic, and willing to make changes teenagers can be. Research supports this willingness of adolescents to make significant dietary change when presented with accurate compelling information.1
This approach makes more sense to me. Sending your children to some camp so that strangers can fix a problem you can’t—or don’t want to be bothered with—seems like irresponsible parenting to me. After all, no one likes fat-camp. Especially Homer Simpson:


And don’t forget about Dr. Fuhrman’s podcast on Getting Children to Eat Well.
1. Stevens VJ, Glasgow RE, Toobert DJ, et al. Randomized trial of brief dietary intervention to decrease consumption of fat and increase consumption of fruits and vegetables. Am J Health Promot 2002;16(3):129-134.
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