Over the years, Mechele Pitt watched as her 12-year-old son Ty steadily gained weight.
“He was making bad food choices and eating when he was bored or upset,” says Pitt. “I felt like I had lost control and that he was spiraling out of control. I was afraid for my son.”
Then, in 2011, Pitt saw a newspaper article about Camp Wabi in New Auburn, Wis., a new summer camp for kids who struggle with obesity. The camp, sponsored by Mayo Clinic Health System and the YMCA, promised a traditional camp experience combined with lessons on the lifestyle changes necessary to achieve and maintain a healthy weight.
For Ty and 39 other campers, Camp Wabi (pronounced Wah-bee) was a life-changing experience.
“Camp is really fun, and you don’t get judged there by what you weigh,” says Ty, now 13. “If you’re looking for a good time and looking for a way to learn about healthy choices, Camp Wabi is the place to go.”
Ty lost 10 pounds during his 12 days at Camp Wabi and an additional 25 pounds in the months afterward. But what he “gained” matters even more to his mom.
“Ty has learned how to live a healthy life,” says Pitt. “He’s gained life skills that have changed his life and will change his life forever.”
Campers aren’t the only ones learning about health and wellness. There also are lessons for their parents delivered during orientation, via emails from camp and at follow-up reunions.
“One of the best strategies to reduce childhood obesity is to improve the diet and exercise habits of the entire family,” says John Plewa, M.D., pediatrician and medical director of Camp Wabi. “We know parents want to see their children be happy and healthy. That’s why helping the whole family understand the importance of treating and preventing childhood obesity will help protect the health of children now and in the future.”
For the most part, kids at Camp Wabi experience the same activities as any other Y camper — swimming, games, crafts and campfires. But each afternoon, campers also spend an hour learning about topics such as goal setting, reading food labels, understanding and changing eating patterns, the importance of physical activity and making healthy choices while eating out.
Ty has continued to lose weight and says that his endurance and flexibility have improved. And months after camp has ended, the Pitts continue to incorporate Camp Wabi’s lessons into their lives.
“We plan and make our meals together,” says Pitt. “I used to make two different meals because Ty wouldn’t eat what I did. Now he helps me cook and measure our food. We’ve all changed our habits. You can’t expect a kid to come home and keep doing what he learned at camp on his own. It’s a family effort.”
Pitt says she feels blessed that her family was able to experience Camp Wabi, and she and Ty encourage other families to take advantage of the opportunity.
2012 Camp Wabi information:
- Dates: Camp Wabi will run Sunday, Aug. 5, to Friday, Aug. 17.
- Register: For a brochure or more information, call 715-836-8460, go to ycampmanitou.org or stop in at the Eau Claire YMCA, 700 Graham Ave.
- Cost: Total cost is valued at $800. However, Mayo Clinic Health System contributes half the cost for each camper, bringing tuition to just $400. Financial assistance is available to low-income families.
Camp Wabi, which began in 2011, was modeled after a similar program offered by Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas, in response to the childhood obesity epidemic. In the United States, childhood obesity has more than tripled in the past 30 years. Today, more than 18 percent of children are obese, up from 5 percent in 1980, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
As part of camp, parents participate in an orientation session on Aug. 5 to learn how they can contribute to their child’s weight management and health attitudes. When camp ends on Aug. 17, parents have opportunities to participate in group discussions, go over educational material and meet with other parents. Camp staff work with parents, sharing ways to reinforce, support and prepare for when their child returns home.
The YMCA’s Camp Manitou is well known for its fun activities, and Camp Wabi offers the same, plus wellness education:
- Hobbies: Campers can try archery, sailing, fishing, kayaking, crafts, basketball and more.
- All-camp activities: Campers play group games like Capture the Flag or enjoy the famous Mud Hike.
- Evening activities: From campfires to skit night to a dance, nighttime fun often is the day’s highlight.
- Wellness: For an hour a day, a physician, dietitian or behavioral health specialist will talk with campers about how to change their habits, nutrition or activity.
- Dining: A healthy menu will be served at every meal.
The goals of Camp Wabi are to help children increase self-esteem and embrace healthy lifestyle choices.
“Manitouwabi is an Ojibwe word meaning spirit,” says YMCA camp director Carol Fahrenkrog, who resides at camp throughout the summer. “The traditional goals of Camp Manitou — developing mind, body and spirit — are incorporated with the goals of Camp Wabi. More than anything, we want each and every camper to have fun and enjoy being a kid.”
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Mayo Clinic Health System consists of Mayo-owned clinics, hospitals and other health care facilities that serve the health care needs of people in more than 70 communities in Georgia, Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin. The community-based providers, paired with the resources and expertise of Mayo Clinic, enable patients in the region to receive the highest-quality health care close to home.