Teens go away to camp to learn about nutrition, exercise
Even so, Taylor Wheatley of Seaford didn’t want Shore Fun Camp to end. “I don’t want to leave, because I’ve made so many new friends,” she said after doing 45 minutes of yoga to start the final day.
|No one likes to talk about obesity in young people
Only smoking kills more people than obesity and inactivity, and the cascade to that lifestyle starts at a young age, said Peggy Geisler, executive director of the Sussex Child Health Promotion Coalition.
Even though childhood obesity in Delaware has shown signs of leveling off, almost 40 percent of young people ages 2 to 17 struggle with weight issues.
“Although obesity is an equal-opportunity affliction, the Hispanic and African-American cultures have their own set of risk factors,” said Geisler.
Those who fall under or near the poverty level struggle with learned and cultural behavior, in addition to social acceptance of females who are overweight, she said.
“Add in lack of and access to exercise, and you have the perfect storm for obesity,” she said.
Obesity can lead to other medical conditions, including heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure.
She said people tend to shy away from talking about obesity. She was stymied when she approached area schools to have fliers sent home with children announcing the Shore Fun Camp.
“Schools would not circulate them, because staff was afraid it would send out the message that parents of overweight children were not doing a good job,” Geisler said.
She has trouble understanding that logic. “It’s a medical condition that also creates years of emotional trauma for kids,” she said.
“Yes, it’s a touchy subject, but we are jeopardizing children’s future health.”
Geisler, who said she has struggled with her weight, said she wished someone had reached her mother when she was a small child.
“I wish I was taught the right way to eat when I was little because weight issues become engrained and it becomes a real struggle to change behavior.”
Before campers checked into the Cape Henlopen State Park youth camping barracks, Beebe nurses performed health assessments to check for diabetes and high blood pressure.
Campers had a nonstop schedule filled with nutrition classes, yoga, bike riding, hiking, swimming at the beach and even a visit to Jungle Jim’s water park.
At the foundation of the camp was nutrition education, said Peggy Geisler, coalition executive director.
Every meal was prepared with calories and wholesomeness in mind.
At first, some campers turned their noses up at the menu, which included salads, yogurt, fruit, turkey-based meats, milk and no sugary snacks. Portion sizes were measured out according to daily requirements. In a super-sized society, children have problems with portion sizes, Geisler said.
During the first lunch, some campers threw their salad with tuna in the trash. “They were trying to show who was in charge, but they cleared their dinner plates,” Geisler said.
Wheatley said she learned a lot about nutrition and exercise. “It’s important to get outside and play sports,” she said, recognizing that many young people spend too much time sitting inside watching TV and playing video games.
“I will be more active and walk around the neighborhood,” she said. “I’ll try to eat better [pizza is her downfall] and do some yoga poses every morning.”
She said she was afraid when camp started that she couldn’t do the exercises and wouldn’t like the food. “It turned out to be really fun,” she said.
Geisler said that although the goal was not for campers to lose weight, the teens lost between 3 and 8 pounds each. “Some told me they never thought they could lose weight,” she said. “Many said they felt much better.”
Nestor Gonzalez of Milton learned how to read food labels. “I was surprised how much sugar is in what we eat,” he said, as he waited for breakfast, which was an egg-white sandwich served on whole-wheat flat bread with a slice of cantaloupe.
“I will look at the sugar content from now on and not eat as much,” he said.
Gonzalez said his entire family is trying to eat healthier foods and get more exercise. “I learned it’s important to be active, have fun, eat right and take care of your body,” he said.
Parents hold the key to proper childhood nutrition, Geisler said. “The kids have no self-discipline, so it’s up to parents to manage them,” she said. And when parents are struggling with weight issues themselves, family dynamics are upset.
“Parents who deal with weight problems that have been going on for years and years tell me they don’t want their children to have the same problems,” Geisler said. Before camp was over, staff met with parents to discuss some of the same nutrition issues talked about during the week.
About the coalition
The Sussex Child Health Promotion Coalition, founded in collaboration with Nemours Health and Prevention Services, has a main goal of getting citizens and institutions actively engaged in child health promotion to create a cultural and physical environment which supports healthy lifestyles for children and their families.
Private donations and grants from the state Division of Public Health and First State Community Action Agency also helped to cover the camp’s expenses. Cathy VanSciver, the coalition’s chief operating officer, coordinated the camp.