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Tuesday, December 22, 1998 Published at 11:37 GMT


Summer camp for the overweight

In the US, summer camps for the obese are common

Britain is to get its first summer camp for overweight children.

Following on the American example, Leeds Metropolitan University is to launch a six-week camp next year.

The aim is to encourage young people to exercise more, to eat a more balanced diet and to raise their self-esteem.

A third of British children are obese or overweight and run the risk of developing health problems such as high blood pressure and heart disease in later life.

The camp will take up to 150 children aged 11 to 17. All will have to present doctors' reports showing they are clinically overweight.


The camp is the brainchild of Paul Gately, the university's lecturer in exercise, physiology and health.

He worked in US weight loss camps for eight years and has conducted a four-year research project on their effectiveness.

The project studied 1,000 children aged seven to 17.

Eighty per cent weighed less after three years of going to the camps, despite the fact that they were growing.

Mr Gately said: "Rather than playing out with their friends, today's youngsters are far more likely to spend their time slouched in front of the television or playing computer games - and that is why we think this course is needed."

The children will be taught how to be active, how to eat a balanced diet and how to change their behaviour so that they lead healthier lives.

This could include encouraging children to walk to school. One idea to get around parents' fear of their children walking to school is to arrange a "walk pool".

This could work like a car pool, with one parent being responsible for walking a group of children to school.


Mr Gately said it was important to get parents involved in helping to keep their children healthy.

They will be invited for one weekend of the course and will take part in activities and nutrition sessions.

[ image: The camp will teach children how to be active and healthy]
The camp will teach children how to be active and healthy
"But what tends to happen is that the children educate the parents," said Mr Gately.

The typical day will involve a range of activities, from basketball to rock climbing and mountain biking, all taught by qualified coaches.

Mr Gately says summer camps are beginning to catch on in the UK, but there is a long way to go before they are part of everyday life as they are in the US.

In the US, there are camps for every taste, including Christian camps, camps which encourage self-sufficiency and the pioneer spirit, camps for people with learning difficulties and those which teach skills such as foreign languages, computer skills, music and the art of high finance.

Mr Gately is currently looking for funding for the course so that the cost can be reduced.

There is a possibility that children from wealthier families could be subsidised to take part.

"Our aim is to involve as many children as possible," he said.

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