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 2018 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 eight of the best camps in 2018 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 & 3) Camp Pocono Trails – Pennsylvania and Camp Vanguard – Florida
New Image Camps, a leader in weight loss camps for kids, 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 campsite, 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 January 1, 2018: Wellspring Camps are not operating this summer, so please direct your attention to the other camps listed above. They are specifically referring campers to Camp Pocono Trails
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.
5) Camp Pennbrook for Girls – Pennsylvania
Camp Pennbrook gives girls a safe and accepting environment in which to lose weight. But more than that, it’s a place where girls learn to change their lifestyle to be healthier and stronger. The number one thing that Camp Pennbrook offers girls is confidence. If there is any one thing that will hold a girl back in life, it’s a lack of self-esteem. Because Camp Pennbrook is girls only, they can learn to lose weight in a place where everyone is exactly like them. The goal of the camp is to create bonds with oneself and with fellow campers that can last a lifetime. The typical day starts with a walk or a jog to get yourself ready for the day. Then a healthy breakfast, clean-up, then off to a cardio class. Team sports are the latter half of the morning followed by a healthy lunch. More sports and activities in the afternoon. Then the evenings have fashion shows, movies, and much more. Camp Pennbrook gives girls a normal life to work in that shows them that they can do everything. They can have friends. They can have a social life. They can do sports. They can lose weight. You can learn more about Camp Pennbrook, one of the country’s best weight loss camps for kids, on their website.
6) 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.
Why weight loss camps for kids?
The stigma of “fat camp” is no longer. The issue of childhood obesity has gone from being a rarity to being a national epidemic. Being obese in childhood is one of the most significant indicators of health issues later in life. In fact, at this point, the current generation of children will die younger than their parents. That will mark the first time in recorded history that this has happened.
Weight loss camps for kids aren’t about simply losing weight; they are about lifestyle changes that can be carried far beyond the borders of the camps. Self-confidence is the number one thing that kids walk away with. The confidence to continue those changes. The confidence to succeed in life. The confidence that their life, and their weight, is under their control.
I absolutely disagree with the other two comments below. My daughter attended one of these camps and was wildly successful and not only kept her weight off, but has been an amazing role model for her friends. She has encouraged them to eat well and exercise, too, as well as our entire family. She even returned to camp a second summer just because she loved it so much the first time around. My daughter was overweight and, because of that, she was not confident in her ability to do well in sports. She would cry on the days they her gym class had to run the mile at school because she knew she would finish towards the end of the pack. After attending camp, she joined the 6th grade cross country team upon her return to school and did amazingly! The following year, her 7th grade cross country team won the finals and all crossed the finish line together! We could not be more proud of her. DO NOT hesitate to send your child to one of these camps. It will be the best “gift” you can give them in their entire life! Attending camp two years ago absolutely changed my daughter’s life!! I am SO VERY HAPPY for her and owe it all to the program she attended. It’s not hard to keep a healthy lifestyle after your child returns from camp, but it has to be a family decision! I, too, thought a sports camp was the answer. While there, I found out they made the children have money for “incidentals”, but allowed them to buy pop and candy bars from their vending machines. A disgrace! They also took the kids to a chocolate factory on one of their field trips! I was shocked! This was NOT the type of healthy environment I was expecting. The camps mentioned above are the only “safe” option for parents who want to ensure their kids are in a healthy environment. Don’t think of them as a “fat camp”. The camp my daughter attended was everything I had prayed it would be. Healthy, very supportive, educational and active. It was AMAZING and I will forever be grateful for the day I made the decision to send her! If you’d like to me share which camp my daughter attended, I would be happy to!
Doris, thank you for sharing this and we’re happy to hear Camp Jump Start worked for you!
Camp Jump Start in MO. Jean, the owner, is the most caring and selfless person I have ever met. I cannot say enough amazing things about my daughter’s transformation! We owe CJS the world for changing my daughter’s life forever. I wish you the best of luck and apologize for not seeing this sooner. Doris
Hi Doris. Thank you for sharing your daughters experience. I am currently looking at camp for my daughter. Would you mind sharing with me which camp you chose?
While camps like this may work, it can be tough sending your kids away. A fantastic alternative is Kurbo. It’s a fantastic app that’s geared toward children and teens, with the goal of setting healthy habits FOR LIFE. It really works too. Using Kurbo I dropped my BMI almost 50%. The program is so great because it’s on a mobile device, so kids can do it from home, and don’t have to go away. Doing Kurbo was the best decision of my life, and it can change yours! https://kurbo.com/success-stories/
Ralphie you have to be willing to change the family’s eating habits. I’m not sure how old your child is, but they can’t eat what you don’t supply.
I’m all for exercise to help kids be fit and well. It’s fun, teaches kids great lessons, helps them be fit, etc. But Time magazine and Dr. Lustig and numerous other studies have been very adamant that exercise has very little effect on obesity. Vet’s have known for ages that the only way to help an obese pet is to restrict food. You cannot exercise your way out of obesity. It’s great for many many other health related aspect. But weight loss unfortunately isn’t one of them. Still it’s been so deeply ingrained that its hard to disassociate.
The hardest part of obesity is to adjust a child’s diet (anyone’s diet), but that is the only thing that will obtain the results we need to combat this epidemic of obesity. Which speaks to the real reason these camps work at least in the short term. The portions are carefully controlled and there is no unlimited access to the kitchen as there is in most homes. So no snacking on demand, no going back for seconds, etc.
Then the child has to return to our typical unhealthy environment (the school, neighbors homes, family and friend’s homes, basically the entire US) and is expected to fight their body’s hardwired urges. It’s difficult, complex and sad. The only thing I can think of that might help is if the family home can somehow replicate the regimented nature of the camp. It’s not perfect, but it’s a help.
The best experience at fat camp you will ever have.
https://www.cfscamp.com/ is an adult oriented weight loss camp as well, with a prestigious track record.
Seems like Backpacker is mostly for adults… Interesting though.