Fat Camp Should Be Illegal
Start writing a post
Health and Wellness

5 Reasons Fat Camp For Kids Is 100% Ethically Wrong And Needs To Stop, Immediately

Children's summer weight-loss camps are still a regular occurrence, and I can't understand why.

5 Reasons Fat Camp For Kids Is 100% Ethically Wrong And Needs To Stop, Immediately

I am a senior nutrition and dietetics student in southeast Pennsylvania. A few weeks ago I received an invitation in my school email to apply for a position at a children's weight loss camp. I was confused and angry.

I always believed weight loss camp was just fodder for weird Ben Stiller movies from the '90s.

I honestly did not believe people were still sending their kids to these places.

So I did some research. All of the websites I visited talked about "lifestyle changes," "confidence," and "obesity epidemic." These are all major buzzwords associated with diet culture that really just have dollar signs written all over them.

If a child is healthy enough to spend all summer outdoors and away from home, and they want to go away to camp, why not send them to a summer camp where the main goal is to have fun? Weight loss camps market in a way that makes it sound as though other summer camps are not being held to the same standard of nutrition of weight loss camps, which legally, cannot be true. Can it?

So then, why don't all summer camps include healthy lifestyle as part of the curriculum? Maybe because they're already eating three healthy meals and running around all day?

As part of my research, I informally polled two populations of people. The question was "Is weight loss camp for children ethical?" The first population was Odyssey writers who were mostly not involved in nutrition. Only 53% answered YES. I asked the same of my Instagram which is mostly made of nutrition-related followers and 70% answered NO. Every person who answered YES was not involved in nutrition in any way. Almost all of the people who answered NO were involved in nutrition as a student or as a dietitian.

This shows me that nutrition professionals know something about this that the rest don't. As a society, we are more concerned with the weight of a child than the well-being of the child. Weight and well-being are not interchangeable. Fat camp is unethical and should be discontinued. If you still don't believe me, read on.

1. Children's bodies are meant to grow 


The whole goal of a child's body is to grow. Cells are splitting. Bones are lengthening. Brain is wrinkling. This takes energy, AKA calories! Weight loss during childhood can inhibit growth. The development of children is imperative to their ability to be functioning adults. Weight gain during childhood is expected and normal. Perceptible weight gain is especially expected in the time before puberty. Ethical weight management for children focuses on maintenance, not weight-loss. Maintenance programs focus on parental involvement and a family approach to learning healthful behaviors. Significant and severe weight-loss may also signal hunger hormones and make food-seeking the top priority.

"I remember going from 5th to 6th grade and my body went through some wonky changes that year. I'll never forget my Mom saying that she wouldn't be buying my clothes in a certain size, so I lost weight that summer." - Anonymous, 28

2. Research does not support successful long-term weight loss 


The evidence has become overwhelmingly negative on the subject of weight-loss intervention. Diets fail. The human body has evolved through periods of low caloric intake, starvation, intermittent eating patterns, and times of overeating. All of that is true and yet humanity has persisted. This is, in part, because of sensitive hormone regulation and homeostasis. Our bodies are excellent at making sure we don't die. This has been terrible news for many people who have chronically dieted, but the evidence is there. So, if research does not support these practices, why are they still allowed to be acted upon children? Doctors would not be able to prescribe medication to children that failed in the research. I don't believe there is anything ethical about treating children outside of evidence-based practice.

"I feel like it is important to educate children on the importance of living a healthy lifestyle, but at the same time we need to do it in a way that is encouraging and productive instead of making it about weight loss." Anonymous, 20

3. Affirmation of bad body image 


There are many people ready to throw around the phrase "obesity epidemic" when they have never studied epidemiology, nutrition, or even anatomy. There are many people who say that kids will be teased if they are larger than average, without regard to radical ideas like, maybe, finding a way to stop bullying. Kids are subjected to judgment from every possible source and angle from the time they can toddle. Sending them away to lose weight teaches them that their body is a problem that needs to be solved. That their body is the problem. How can these children be expected to be mentally and physically healthy adults? Performative behavior such as losing weight to fit a predetermined mold of "healthy" is psychologically damaging, and discounts much of the evidence about supporting positive body image.

20% of teens are either "rarely" or "never" happy with their body image
52% feel that the media pressures them to change their body image
73% of teens feel their appearance affects their body image
65% of teens are afraid of gaining weight
44% of teens skip meals as a tactic to losing or controlling weight
31% of teens have been on a diet in the last six months
31% of teens have at least one body part on which they would like to get surgery
56% of teens feel that the media's advertisements are the main cause of low self-esteem

4. The environment is temporary, like the results 


Eventually, summer ends and the children who spent all their time focused on fun, calorie-burning activities go back home to their families. It is unethical to teach children that their lifestyle is their responsibility, and then remove them from the same environment that let them feel success with that responsibility. Environment accounts for so much when it comes to health outcomes. Factors like access to nutritious food, playgrounds, supportive friends and family all contribute. Providing a trifecta of factors for weight loss, making a camper feel like their hard work has paid off, and then sending them home, is cruel. The weight-loss camps boast tools for when the kids go home, but really the "magic" of camp is the change of environment. The feeling of success dissipates with every pound gained back, and then by the time summer comes again, the dismay and self-esteem issues send them right back to camp.

5. Every children's camp should have that level of care 


One of the other things that these fat camps boast, (besides unsustainable, unrealistic tools), is the team of dietitians, doctors, counselors, and fitness experts on staff. This is an unreasonable selling point. Every camp should have these people on staff. Anywhere there are children, engaging in outdoor activity, being fed on a large scale, and without the care of their parents, these standards should be in place. If that were true, and ethically practiced, every summer camp could be a place where body image, bullying, increased physical activity, and learning health skills are addressed. The fact that fat camps cost extra thousands beyond regular plain summer camps is mind-boggling. Where is the money going? Better food? Better activities? Better staff? That doesn't sit well with me. All summer camps should be weight inclusive and focused on fun, and health. If it costs more to bring the quality up to standard, so be it. That should be the cost.

It is time to separate wellbeing and weight and make all summer camps weight inclusive. We need to teach our children that their bodies are vessels for their growth as people. Helping kids to understand the changes they are going through in an age-appropriate way, and working towards an understanding of health, is paramount to healthy body image. All bodies are good bodies. Fat camps belong in the past and I'm ready to see them go. I'm ready to never get another job invitation to one ever again. Almost all of the nutrition professionals I spoke to on this subject felt the same. I hope that those who disagree will come to see that healthy children exist in many body types and that ethical care means accepting that as fact. Evidence-based practice should be the minimum standard of care of all people, but especially children away from their parents and guardians.

Report this Content
I'm Tired Of Being Told My Standards Are Too High By People Whose Standards Are Too Low

There is no question that our generation has put a whole new spin on the dating scene.

Keep Reading... Show less

What If The U.N. Actually United The Nations?

This is me taking a break from being cynical and imagining how the world could be one day.


By now, people are probably sick of hearing me talk about myself, so I’m changing it up this week. In keeping with the subject of my J-Term class, I’m asking myself a political what-if question. What if we could create a sovereign global government firmly grounded in justice that could actually adjudicate Earth’s many disparate nation-states into one unified world government?

Keep Reading... Show less

100 Things I'd Rather Do Than Study

Procrastination Nation, unite.

Panda Whale
Here are 100 things I'd rather to than study. I know the semester just started, but

    1. Watch a movie
    2. Take a nap
    3. Have a dance party
    4. Eat ice cream
    5. Bake a cake
    6. Cry just a little bit
    7. Knit a blanket
    8. Learn to ride a bike
    9. Build a crib
    10. Watch a hockey game
    11. Watch any game
    12. Play with my hair
    13. Dye my hair
    14. Go grocery shopping
    15. Learn to crochet
    16. Do 50 jumping jacks
    17. Drive cross country
    18. Take a bubble bath
    19. Squeeze lemons for lemonade
    20. Sell the lemonade
    21. Make heart-shaped ice cubes
    22. Moisturize my knees
    23. Paint my nails
    24. Find the cure for cancer
    25. Run a marathon
    26. Just kidding, run down the hall
    27. Squat my bodyweight
    28. Eat my bodyweight in French fries
    29. Hibernate until Christmas
    30. Cuddle my body pillow (unless you have a boo)
    31. Think about all the work I’m not doing
    32. Wash my bed sheets
    33. Vacuum my apartment
    34. Play mini golf
    35. Go swimming
    36. Tan in this Texas heat
    37. Sing like I’m about to win American Idol
    38. Blow up balloons
    39. Pop the balloons
    40. Make lists
    41. Write an Odyssey article
    42. Pet a puppy
    43. Adopt a puppy
    44. Pay my rent
    45. Order a pizza
    46. Start a garden
    47. Cook a turkey
    48. Find new music
    49. Clean my waffle iron
    50. Learn to make jam
    51. Jam to music
    52. Play scrabble
    53. Volunteer anywhere
    54. Celebrate a birthday
    55. Watch a makeup tutorial I’ll never use
    56. Go through old pictures on my phone
    57. Make a playlist
    58. Take a shower
    59. Clean my room
    60. Curl my hair
    61. Climb a rock wall
    62. Get a massage
    63. Play with Snapchat filters
    64. Roast a chicken
    65. Go fishing
    66. Chug some Snapple
    67. Ride in a cart around Walmart
    68. Count the days until the semester is over
    69. Overthink about my future
    70. Think of my future baby’s names
    71. Pin everything on Pinterest
    72. Text anybody
    73. Pray about life
    74. Watch a sunset
    75. Watch a sunrise
    76. Have a picnic
    77. Read a book (that’s not for school)
    78. Go to a bakery
    79. Snuggle a bunny
    80. Clean my apartment
    81. Wash my dishes
    82. Rearrange my furniture
    83. Physically run away from my problems
    84. Make some meatballs
    85. Learn to make bread
    86. Google myself
    87. Ride a Ferris wheel
    88. Get stuck on a Ferris wheel (that way, it’s not my fault I’m not studying)
    89. Wash my car
    90. Get on a plane to Neverland
    91. Find Narnia in my closet
    92. Jump on a trampoline
    93. Learn to ice skate
    94. Go rollerblading
    95. Ride a rollercoaster
    96. Carve a pumpkin
    97. Restore water in a third world country
    98. FaceTime my family
    99. Hug my mom
    100. Tell my friends I love them

    The Basics Of The United Nations

    As the General Assembly convenes, here is the United Nations 101


    For an organization that literally unites the nations, it amazes me how little is taught about the United Nations in schools, or at least where I went to school. It wasn't until I went to college and got a higher education that I learned the basics of the United Nations. I believe that every American should know at least the basics of what the United Nations does, especially since our country is one of the 5 permanent members. So here are the main "organs" of the United Nations.

    Keep Reading... Show less
    Student Life

    Wine Wednesdays!

    How to get through the best Hump Day get together.


    What would Wine Wednesdays be without wine? Grab a bottle of red and a bottle of white so that you have some variety. If you feel like splurging, get a bottle of Rosé too.

    Keep Reading... Show less

    Subscribe to Our Newsletter

    Facebook Comments