Food and Fitness for a Healthy Child

WebMD Live Events Transcript

Eat less and move more seems like a simple formula for weight loss. But any parent of an overweight child knows balancing healthy eating with physical activity can be a challenge. We talked about getting off on the right foot with Stephanie Burton, fitness director of Camp Kingsmont, a summer weight loss program for kids, when she joined us on Sept. 30, 2004.

The opinions expressed herein are the guests' alone and have not been reviewed by a WebMD physician. If you have questions about your health, you should consult your personal physician. This event is meant for informational purposes only.

MODERATOR:
Thanks for joining us, Stephanie. Do weight loss camps for children work?

BURTON:
Yes, of course they work, and our kids have lots of fun -- that's why it works. We get our children involved in fun activities and through them having fun, they forget about the weight issue and the weight comes off.

MODERATOR:
Who are your campers and what is the goal of a typical kid at Kingsmont?

BURTON:
Our campers range in age from 7 to 17, and the majority of the campers' goals are to lose weight. When they come to camp we talk to them about their goals, but we also want them to learn about making the goals long term. Our campers also learn about proper nutrition, play sports, make friends, and have fun.

MODERATOR:
Sounds like something the parents would like, too! Do you restrict food or simply serve low-calorie menus? How do you handle eating issues?

BURTON:
We don't restrict the food from kids, we provide a menu they would see at home or in school, but we teach them how to eat in moderation. We let them make their choices, and help guide them to listen to their bodies, to let their bodies tell them when enough is enough.

This seems to work very well when the children return to their normal lifestyle. They don't feel as though they need to eat everything they haven't had during the summer, because they've been getting treats, including ice cream, cookies, Popsicles, etc. They just learn how to eat them in correct portions for their bodies.

MODERATOR:
What kind of activities do you encourage the children to participate in?

BURTON:
We highly encourage the kids to participate in walking as much as they can; it's something they can do on their own, with friends and family, with music. Pretty much anywhere they live, they can walk.

During camp we offer many activities, such as:

  • Soccer
  • Softball
  • Basketball
  • Football
  • Volleyball
  • Tennis
  • Horseback riding
  • Go-karts
  • Paintball

And the list goes on and on. We try to encourage our kids to try a plethora of sports, so when they return home they feel very comfortable and confident to play on a school sport or a league in their town.

"Exercise...helps to control an appetite because you're not sitting around thinking about food. After your body gets moving, it forgets that it's hungry."

MEMBER QUESTION:
Does exercise help control hunger, or does it make you hungrier?

BURTON:
Exercise does both. When you exercise, you burn calories. So yes, you are hungrier because you've burned the food you've already eaten during the day. But it also helps to control an appetite because you're not sitting around thinking about food. After your body gets moving, it forgets that it's hungry. When children are exercising, it's important for them to eat a healthy diet to ensure they are taking in enough calories to sustain their active bodies during the day.

MEMBER QUESTION:
From your experience at your camp, what kinds of activities work well for weight loss and keep kids interested and motivated?

BURTON:
Team sports help to keep kids active and motivated, since they are working together, they're with their friends, and there's always a goal in mind.

MEMBER QUESTION:
Outside of the "we're all alike here" environment at a camp like yours, how do you suggest a parent help a child overcome the psychological barrier to exercise?

BURTON:
At our camp we teach self-esteem. We teach kids to like themselves, and when they leave our camp they're full of confidence. They're accepting of their bodies and they understand it's a work in progress, and to meet their goals they need to focus on themselves.

My advice would be to look inward, gain strength from inside, and you will be successful in achieving your goals.

MEMBER QUESTION:
What kinds of follow-up materials do you give parents at the end of your program, to help keep the success going after the kids get home?

BURTON:
Our follow-up program includes:

  • Nutritious recipes for meals that the kids have picked out
  • Questions to help with self-esteem
  • A fitness program for each camper
  • A video of a fitness class
  • A newsletter four to six times a year with tips on staying on the road to success

Also, the campers are encouraged to contact me, our nutritionist, and our connections director throughout the year to help with any questions they have.

"If the family decides to make a healthy lifestyle change, we see a higher success rate in the campers than a camper trying to battle it alone."

MEMBER QUESTION:
What kind of long-term success do you see, and is there a common link between kids who lose it for life and also between those who gain their weight back?

BURTON:
We do have much long-term success at our camp. We cannot change a child unless the child wants to change him- or herself. But we encourage them, we give them guidance and support, anything they would need to help them reach the goals they have created for themselves.

We do find that if the family decides to make a healthy lifestyle change, we see a higher success rate in the campers than a camper trying to battle it alone.

MEMBER QUESTION:
How do you handle a child who just doesn't like anything healthy?

BURTON:
There must be some healthy foods that the child would be interested in. It takes time, it takes different ways of preparation, but it is possible.

One way to find out what your child likes would be to take him or her grocery shopping with you and talk about food choices. Let your child go to the fruits and vegetables aisle first. Try to walk the perimeter of the market where healthy foods are generally located.

Another idea is to help your child eat in moderation with appropriate portion sizes. You can also encourage him or her to eat healthfully during the week and allow for a treat on weekends.

MEMBER QUESTION:
How do you deal with kids who insist on a special diet (vegetarian)?

BURTON:
We offer many different types of foods. We have some campers who do not eat meat, who cannot eat too much salt; who have food allergies; and we make appropriate options available to everyone. We also provide kosher meals.

MEMBER QUESTION:
Can a camp like yours help a child who has weight-related diabetes?

BURTON:
Our medical staff deals with diabetes and such, but the campers are 100% encouraged to participate in all the activities. We don't discriminate against children with diseases or handicaps.

MEMBER QUESTION:
Do you do weigh-ins with the kids?

BURTON:
Yes, but it's on an optional basis. When the campers arrive (and when they leave), we weigh them, take their measurements and also do their BMIs.

We help our campers to understand that their weight is only a number. We try not to have them focus on their weight throughout the summer.

We do keep a running record of the pounds lost weekly that they will have at the end of camp, but we try to get them away from thinking about the scale. The reason why we do weigh-ins is because it is a huge motivating tool. When the kids are at camp, they're active and eating healthy and their weight decreases.

We want our kids to be able to see what happens when you put the combination of activity and healthy nutrition together. This helps them continue on their healthy lifestyle after camp.

MEMBER QUESTION:
Does it help a child to track measurements rather than weight? As they get taller, their weight may not go down, but may be more appropriate.

BURTON:
It absolutely helps to track a child's measurements. They will also be able to feel that their clothes are looser, so they kind of know that their weight is coming down. If a child is active daily, they will put on muscle, which weighs more than fat. So they may not see a difference in the scale, but their body will be distributing weight differently, so measurements are very helpful.

MEMBER QUESTION:
What's a realistic weight loss goal, per week or month for an adolescent?

BURTON:
The realistic weight loss depends on the child. One to two pounds a week for a growing adolescent would be realistic.

MEMBER QUESTION:
Is it helpful to use 'scare' tactics on a kid, telling him what health problems will haunt them if they don't exercise or eat better?

BURTON:
It is very discouraging for a child when you use scare tactics. Some children may tend to eat more as they become nervous and scared, so a positive outlook is more helpful and beneficial to the child.

"There are some support groups for parents who have children that are overweight. That is a good place to go and talk about ideas and to share information."

MODERATOR:
What advice would you have for parents who have an overweight child and can't send them to a camp?

BURTON:

  • Become very involved in your child's quest and goals.
  • Find an activity that your child enjoy. If he or she enjoys an activity he or she is going to stick with it.
  • Be supportive -- that's very important.
  • Be positive about your child's goals -- also very important.
  • Get involved with your child in their activity.
  • Get siblings involved in their activity.

Don't let your child go at this alone. There are some support groups for parents who have children that are overweight. That is a good place for parents to go and talk about ideas and to share information.

MODERATOR:
What should parents look for in a potential camp experience for their child?

BURTON:
In researching a camp for your child, I'd recommend you:

  • Call and speak with the representative at the camp. It's very important to ask all the questions that you have. You want to feel comfortable sending your child to that camp for the summer.
  • Speak with families that have already attended the camp.
  • The Internet is a great source of information. Go to www.epinions.com on the Internet to check out opinions from campers and staff that have attended the camps you're interested in.

MODERATOR:
Stephanie, do you have any final words for us?

BURTON:
Weight loss is a struggle for children and adults. Children seem to have a more difficult time because they're faced with many outside factors.

The most important thing for a child is to feel secure and accepting about him- or herself. We promote a healthy lifestyle for our campers and their families. For more information about our camp, you can visit our web site at www.campkingsmont.com or call us at (413) 232-8518.

MODERATOR:
Thanks to Stephanie Burton, fitness director of Camp Kingsmont in Amherst, Mass., for joining us.


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