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Wednesday, June 6, 2012 - 6:15am

Camp Teaches Obese Kids Healthy Living

In Georgia, one in five children is overweight. A special camp for obese kids run by Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta is now in its second summer.

The program is helping severely obese children lose weight and learn to live a healthier lifestyle.

It’s activity hour at Camp Strong 4 Life and the pool is packed. But the giant slides aren’t the main attraction here...14 year old Zarea Adams is. She’s glistening in the sun—the sparkling center of a circle of teenage girls. She’s practically a celebrity here:

“I’m just helping new people, and then like they’ll tell someone else, they’ll tell someone else, a group of people I didn’t tell anything to, but they know my story.”

It’s a story that started last summer when Zarea was a first-time camper. She was 13, and at five-foot-three was pushing 190 pounds. A year later, Zarea, who’s from Stone Mountain, doesn’t look like she belongs with the other kids at Camp Strong 4 Life. It’s not that she doesn’t fit in--- she just doesn’t fit into the Size 16 clothes she wore last summer. The kids all ask her:

“‘You’re not fat like me! Why are you here?’ And I’m like, ‘I used to be, I lost 40 pounds being at this camp,’ and they say, ‘You did what?’ They say, ‘How did you do that?’”

How she did it is why Zarea is Camp Strong 4 Life’s poster girl for success. Her picture is even on the camp’s website. A requirement for first-time campers is to have a Body Mass Index in the 85th percentile. The kids here, ages 8-16 are all obese. Laura Colbert, the Program Coordinator through Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta says camp counselors don’t focus on weight loss— instead, campers learn about making better choices:

“Make half your plate fruits and vegetables, reduce your screen time to less than 60 minutes a day and more than 60 minutes of activity a day, drink more water and less sugar drinks.”

In this exercise, the kids are identifying food by color— like yellow mangos and orange carrots:

“I want you to smell them, hear them, maybe they crackle, I don’t know! And try to guess what you’re tasting.”

16 year-old Daniel Frederick from Hiram is piling his plate high with black beans and salad greens. He has a goal when he gets home:

“Try to introduce salad to the household, probably hear some moaning and groaning, ‘Daniel, no we can’t eat the salad,’ but I’ll just help them to enjoy their salad more and show them new things I learned at camp.”

Camp nutritionist Wendy Palmer explains that eating is learned behavior passed down among generations:

“What was interesting is that a lot of parents had the revelation that those were the habits they grew up and the realization that they have to make changes in order for their children to make changes.”

Dr. Mark L. Wulkan says the obesity epidemic in Georgia ranks it second in the nation. And unfortunately, most families don’t even realize their children are obese:

“It’s perfectly understandable when you have nearly 40% of the kids overweight, when you look to the right or left, your kid may not look that different than the other kids, but the problem is the whole population is overweight and at risk for diseases and health consequences.”

For the resident celebrity Fit camper, Zarea, now 40 pounds thinner, she has advice for kids who are just like she was when she started camp last year:

“Find something you like to do—me personally, I don’t like to exercise, don’t like running, don’t like pushups, don’t like the normal exercise, but when I came to camp I found I like biking and dancing.”

Healthy habits that are helping Zarea and the campers she now mentors, get Strong 4 Life.

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