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Am Fam Physician. 2006;73(1):148

In spite of the lack of evidence, childhood obesity interventions are common in clinical practice. Even though weight-loss camps are a popular intervention, few studies have evaluated their effectiveness. The results of two studies showed some weight loss in campers, and another showed no weight change. Gately and colleagues conducted a study on short-term weight-loss outcomes of a weight-loss camp in the United Kingdom.

In this four-year study, 263 overweight and obese children with a mean age of 13.9 years were enrolled in weight-loss camps. They were compared with 38 overweight and 56 healthy-weight children. Evaluation included anthropometric measures, fitness, blood pressure, self-esteem, and performance in specific sport activities. The camps provided frequent, high-quality sports activities and moderate dietary restriction with three meals and one snack per day.

At the start of the study, campers had a greater body mass index (BMI) and higher body fat percentage than the comparison group. However, campers eventually reduced their BMI, whereas comparison groups increased their BMI. The difference between the two groups was statistically significant. Improvement in the fitness of the campers lowered blood pressure, and there were significant differences in all measured sports skills. Researchers found that increased duration of the camper’s stay had greater improvement on BMI and fitness measures. Self-esteem also was affected. Although campers began the study with lower self-esteem than the normal weight group, their self-esteem eventually improved. Self-esteem in the comparison groups did not show improvement.

The authors conclude that this weight-loss program was effective across a variety of health outcomes for at least a short time. Adolescent participants enrolled in a six-week summer weight-loss and fitness camp lost an average 6 kg (13 lb 3 oz). It is not known which factors contributed most to the program’s success. Even such factors as a positive social environment could have had a positive influence on weight loss. The study also did not address whether weight loss was maintained after leaving the camp. The authors acknowledge that the controlled environment of a weight-loss camp can be most readily attained during the summer, and that such camps are resource intensive.

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