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Part of the Solution: Camp
A recent study indicates that the current generation of children may have shorter life expectancies than their parents for the first time in over two centuries. And it isn’t surprising when you consider that almost one-third of children between the ages of two and nineteen years are overweight, with 17 percent of those classified as obese. In short, the number of obese children has DOUBLED since 1980!
Many parents know that being overweight and/or obese can be prevented for the most part by making sure that the amount of activity is adequately proportionate to the amount of calories consumed. Children who are 10–20 percent over the appropriate weight for their height are considered to be overweight, while children who are more than 20 percent over their ideal weight are classified as obese. With the rise in electronic pastimes (video games, movies and television, iPods), and decreased activity built into the average school day, families are increasingly facing challenges when it comes to carving out adequate activity time. This is especially difficult during summer months when, counter to popular belief, children are less likely to be active and more likely to gain weight.
So what, then, can families do? Families can help by keeping children engaged in programs that promote activity and healthy lifestyles — programs like camp.
Camps encourage young people to move more. And, with research from the American Camp Association showing that 63 percent of parents indicate their children continue new activities learned at camp after they return home, the experiences at camp carry over long after the final campfire. The goal of camps for more than 150 years has been to provide opportunities for youth to experience healthy and safe outdoor environments. The ACA accreditation standards are specific about how formal practices can promote physical and mental health and safety. The focus on moving more is a natural extension of the goals of the camp movement.
Being overweight or obese can be a serious health concern for both adults and children. Childhood obesity has many serious implications; among them are health implications (including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and cancer), social implications (including teasing and discrimination), and psychological implications (including feelings of embarrassment and low self-esteem). Bullying issues might be more common for these children because of their vulnerability due to feelings of inadequacy. In addition, physical play can sometimes be problematic, because obese children often lack the speed and physical stamina needed to participate.
And, the statistics are compelling. Most startling is that 85 percent of obese children remain obese as adults, unless something changes drastically in their lives. Camp could potentially be the positive intervention so needed — a place where every child is encouraged, welcomed, and made to feel successful.
Given the prevalence of childhood obesity, camps are not the cure for the problem. However, camps are a critical part of the solution by establishing safe and supportive environments with policies and practices to support healthy behaviors. And, since camps offer a variety of formats — day or resident, session length, activities offered, etc. — there is literally a camp experience for every child.
Although camps aim to address youth development in many ways, camps should always be just plain fun. People continue to do things they find enjoyable. Therefore, the types of physical activities (i.e., focusing on more than just sports) found at camp can be a foundation for fun and potentially lifelong interests and habits.
Adapted from “Making a Commitment: Encouraging Wellness and Healthy Living at Camp” by Karla A. Henderson and Amy Saltmarsh. Originally published in the 2012 January/February issue of Camping Magazine.