There are weight loss camps for tweens and teens. There are summer camps that parents attend with their children. Now there's a weight control camp for families.
Wellspring Family Camp in the upper peninsula of Michigan is the first and only program that parents or grandparents can attend with an overweight child (or children). It is the only weight control camp for children as young as five. This summer marks Wellspring Family Camp's second year. However, the staff plans very few changes because the first year was so successful, according to Rachel Yudin, camp director. The only major change are new one-week sessions for families who cannot participate in the two-week sessions.
The concept of this camp came out of a growing amount of research indicating that more and more children are overweight and at risk for developing serious health problems like cardiovascular disease, diabetes, sleep apnea, joint dysfunction and certain cancers. A recent study in the New England Journal of Medicine concluded that this might be the first generation of children with a shorter life span than that of their parents -- because of obesity. The staff at Aspen Education Group began to research the best ways to help overweight children too young to attend summer camp on their own.
Aspen Education Group already was running seven Wellspring Camps in the United States and Great Britain with weight control programs for older children. The camps are nationally known for effectiveness. They are among the few camps qualifying for reimbursement as a medical treatment plan by insurance companies and endorsed as a "Best Buy" by Consumers Digest.
Ryan Craig, president of Wellspring Camps, told Reuters, "We knew that our approach works with older teens and young adults. We also knew that there is a huge need for younger kids."
Overweight young children have five times the risk of becoming obese teens; obese teens have seventeen times the risk of becoming obese adults.
However, in order to help the younger crowd, Wellspring's approach had to change. As Mr. Craig said, "We had to work through the parents." Wellspring Family Camp is about helping parents get the knowledge, skills and encouragement they need to create a healthy lifestyle at home.
Lifestyle change is the emphasis of the camp, although campers do lose weight. Last year the average person lost over 4 pounds a week at Wellspring Family Camp. Ms. Yudin said that the program "crossed over" to other family members who did not attend themselves. One college-age brother lost over seventy pounds this year.
"We don't like to call it 'weight loss camp,'" Ms. Yudin said, "because we know that weight loss camps don't work. Wellspring is more about jump-starting a lifestyle of exercise and healthy eating, and then maintaining it at home."
A team of doctors and dietitians developed the Wellspring program by using only scientifically proven methods as recorded in peer-reviewed journals. The program has three aspects: increased physical activity, low fat eating, and self-monitoring. Each camper receives a pedometer and aims for 10,000 steps a day - about twice as many as the daily quota of the average American. Each camper also uses a guidebook that lists the nutritional value of foods. Finally, each camper monitors their daily physical activity and food intake, limiting themselves to twenty fat grams per day. Parents of the youngest campers keep such diaries for them.
Besides walking and hiking in the scenic Clear Lake area of the Hiawatha National Forest, campers swim, canoe, bicycle, rock climb, and perform sports like soccer, softball, yoga, miniature golf, bowling and Tae Kwon Do. There are Talent Show and Game Show nights, dances, movies and campfire sing-a-longs. Families stay in historic wood cabins built by the Civilian Conservation Corps during the 1930s.
However, the unique aspect of Wellspring Family Camp is that its counselors have Master's or doctoral degrees in counseling. They lead campers in workshops that teach new ways of dealing with food issues. Counselors encourage campers to think of themselves as "athletes in training," Ms. Yudin said. Like professional athletes, they use up-to-date methods and professional trainers.
Wellspring's counselors employ cognitive behavioral therapy to help campers learn to handle stress and anxiety without overeating. They teach what triggers a food binge and how to change any negative attitudes toward food. An example is not using food for comfort or rewards. Campers study how American culture has become "obesogenic" -- that is, a culture that encourages people to be overweight. They also learn how genetics can play a role sabotaging weight control.
After their camping session ends, parents and children participate in after-care programs online. They continue keeping their blogs or journals, and meeting with their behavioral coaches a few times a week. Last year many participants enjoyed a chatroom where they could get together and exchange success stories, memories, recipes, etc.
The Wellspring Family Camp is not the only completely innovative weight loss program operated by the Aspen Education Group. The company also owns the Academy of the Sierras, the first and only weight control boarding school for overweight teenagers.
This summer Wellspring Family Camp will have three two-week sessions beginning June 24, July 8, and July 22; and two one-week sessions beginning August 5 and August 12. Overweight children ages 5 to 13 years old can attend with one or both parents or grandparents. For more information, see http://www.wellspringfamilycamp.com/
or call (866) 364-0808.
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