Once regarded as a shameful place where parents sent obese children to suffer near-starvation diets and extreme exercise regimes, the concept of the weight loss camp for kids has been rebranded in recent years as a fun place for children to get healthy. Media exposure has helped kids and teens become more accepting of the struggle against childhood obesity; entire episodes of MTV’s “Made” and “True Life” have been dedicated to following young people through their experiences at a “fat camp” for kids. Parents are also becoming more receptive to sending their children to weight loss camps for preteens and kids because of media coverage. Shows like “The Biggest Loser” and “Extreme Weight Loss,” although focused on adults, have made the subject of a kids weight loss camp easier to talk about. They have also informed parents as to what their child’s experience at a camp for kids may include. If you’re not sure whether this is right for your child, there are also many great alternatives to weight loss camps for kids. This guide outlines four of the best camps for kids that can help children jump-start their journeys to healthier lifestyles.
1) Camp Jump Start – Missouri
Founded in 2003 by registered nurse Jean Huelsing, Camp Jump Start is a fully accredited weight loss camp for kids that focuses on long-term weight loss results for children aged nine through seventeen. The camp, located in Imperial, Missouri, offers four and eight-week camp sessions, refresher camps that serve as a reward for successful campers, and a healthy summer camp option for veteran campers who have maintained their weight loss. Camp Jump Start’s program featured in an episode of MTV’s life-transformation reality show “Made,” following a teenage girl who lost almost twenty-three pounds during her short time at the camp. All campers at Camp Jump Start participate in a program designed to help them address unhealthy emotional attachments to eating. They also have access to a continuing education program that helps reinforce lessons learned at camp and tracks their progress toward weight loss goals.
2) Camp Shane – Arizona, California, Georgia, New York, Texas, Wisconsin
Camp Shane, with locations in Ferndale, New York, and Mayer, Arizona, is another weight loss camp for kids that asserts it is not a “fat camp”, citing the negative connotation that comes with calling it so. Camp Shane has been prominently featured in the media and is one of the older camps, having been in business for more than forty-seven years. Barbara Walters, on ABC’s “20/20,” called Camp Shane inspirational, and Camp Shane success stories have been told on MTV’s “Made” and “The Dr. Phil Show.” Teaching campers to maintain healthy diets is the main focus of Camp Shane’s program. Nutritionists monitor each child’s progress on the prescribed diet and adjust the calorie content to fit each camper’s individual needs. Campers take several nutrition classes a week and attend cooking classes that teach them healthy habits. Camp Shane also gives campers tools to maintain success after camp. Each camper goes home with a booklet containing recipes and guidance and receives a monthly newsletter with nutritional information geared specifically toward children. Camp Shane has also joined forces with the child-weight-management medical practice ‘Red Light, Green Light, Eat Right’. All campers get a membership to the practice’s online plan and are encouraged to contact the director if they have questions.
3) New Image Camps – Pennsylvania, Florida
New Image Camps operates out of two locations: a camp for kids and teens in Pennsylvania, and another for preteens and teenagers in Florida. Camp Pocono Trails is situated on 350 lakefront acres in Pennsylvania’s Pocono Mountains, and it is the only accredited camp for kids offering separate swimming pools for boys and girls. Another camp with an MTV claim to fame, Camp Pocono Trails was the setting for both seasons of the network’s documentary series “Fat Camp,” which followed campers on their weight loss journeys. New Image Camps’ Florida location is called Camp Vanguard. Located on Lake Pierce in Haines City, Florida, it offers many activities for campers on the 115-acre camp site, including optional trips to nearby central Florida amusement parks. The philosophy and program at both camps are consistent and focus on teaching young people to change their diets to achieve weight loss and better health. Campers attend nutrition education and cooking classes once a week, and their meals are based on the American Dietetic Association’s exchange list for weight management. New Image Camps’ weight loss camp for kids are also open to children who aren’t overweight, so a camper can share the experience with a sibling or a close friend. The camp diet is adjusted for kids with food allergies or children who don’t need to lose weight. At the end of each camp session, the camper takes home a maintenance book created by the camp director that includes meal plans, nutritious recipes, and tips on how to continue progress toward health and fitness goals.
4) Wellspring Camps – California, Wisconsin & Florida
Update on April 28, 2017: Wellspring Camps are not operating this summer, so please direct your attention to the other camps listed above.
Wellspring Camps operates weight loss camps for kids at eight locations across the United States and one location in the United Kingdom. Campers can choose from surfing and amusement park excursions in Southern California, checking out the on-campus arboretum in Wisconsin, or visiting the botanical gardens at the Central Florida location. Wellspring also operates family weight loss camps and ones that cater to women only. The company asserts it is not a “fat camp” for kids, employing the logic that they neither educate campers on how to maintain healthy lifestyles nor produce long-term results. Whatever words are used to describe the weight loss program at Wellspring Camps, behavior change over the long term is the program’s ultimate goal. Each attendee is paired with a behavioral coach to help the camper learn skills that promote healthy living for years to come. Wellspring also provides a year-long continuing-care program that gives campers support from the same behavioral coach who helped them during their camp experiences. You can read more in our comparison between wellspring vs. biggest loser resorts.