Summer Camps: Can Short-Term Interventions Have Life-Long Effects On Children’s Nutrition & Physical Activity?

Alen Agaronov ©

Alen Agaronov ©

Long hikes. Campfires. Sleepless nights. 

Terms that are synonymous with summer camps, serving millions of children each year. Unfortunately, summer is also a time when children are at greater risk for inactivity, unhealthy eating and weight gain. Another term that campers will soon recognize is health promotion.

Previous studies found that children that attended a 4-week weight-loss camp lost anywhere between 14 to 20 pounds. Summer camp success stories further describe morbidly obese children that lost close to 80 lbs after 8-weeks – progressing from being able to walk 3 steps to completing a 100-yard dash in 42 seconds. However, such images of summer camp tend to evoke a long list of childhood worries: boot camp, being bullied, unattainable weight loss goals. And plus, no one wants to say they went to fat camp.

Luckily, recent studies are beginning to picture summer camps as a means of obesity prevention, such as by nutrition education and physical activity promotion, as opposed to solely obesity reduction and weight managementThe latest article from the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity (IJBNPA) found that camp professionals are increasing the availability of fruits and vegetables  and healthy drink options, as well as increasing staff modeling of physical activity. These changes are making grand changes in children’s self-efficacy and self-esteem.

In addition, the latest report from the New York City Obesity Taskforce included the long-awaited announcement for the implementation of nutrition standards in City-licensed children’s camps. The Department of Health is expected to make the necessary amendments to the Health Code to include nutrition standards for the 1,000+ City-licensed children’s camps, which bypassed the City Agency Food Standards when Bloomberg revised them in 2011.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) Council on School Health recently published several recommendations on how to promote health in summer camps. However, these things come at a cost and non-profit camps may have difficulty offering a healthy camp experience due to lack of funding for trained staff. While it’s too soon to say that summer camps can lead to long-term impacts, it’s not too soon to begin exploring new tools and measures, as well as new ways to offer a healthy summer camp experience to high-risk populations.


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