'The food's great. You get too much'

Britain's first US-style weight-loss 'summer camp' for children opened a year ago, dishing up a diet of healthy food and plenty of exercise. A fair proportion of last year's intake have returned this summer - so how have they fared over the last 12 months?
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Indy Lifestyle Online

Sitting on a row of plastic chairs, the girls, most of whom are dressed in track suits, stare at the floor glumly. One, whose arms are folded tightly across her chest, is scowling so fiercely at the carpet through her fringe that she could almost burn a hole in it. "If I haven't lost weight I'm going to cry," another blurts out. Like the others, her thighs almost conceal her seat. The girls, who have just completed a week at Britain's only weight-loss camp for children, are waiting for their body-fat to be measured, and to be weighed. They look as if they would rather have their teeth pulled.

Sitting on a row of plastic chairs, the girls, most of whom are dressed in track suits, stare at the floor glumly. One, whose arms are folded tightly across her chest, is scowling so fiercely at the carpet through her fringe that she could almost burn a hole in it. "If I haven't lost weight I'm going to cry," another blurts out. Like the others, her thighs almost conceal her seat. The girls, who have just completed a week at Britain's only weight-loss camp for children, are waiting for their body-fat to be measured, and to be weighed. They look as if they would rather have their teeth pulled.

Paul Gately, director of Carnegie International Camp, which has taken over a boarding school in Bradford for the summer, is sitting by a computer ready to give each girl her results. Gately doesn't share their sense of doom. Last summer, when the camp first opened, children lost an average of 1kg (2.2lbs) a week. But more importantly, of the 40 children who attended over the six-week period, Gately claims around 85 per cent have maintained their weight loss. The results are staggering when compared to the fact that over 90 per cent of adult dieters regain weight. The programme is "the most successful in the world", claims Gately, who hopes the results will be published in the British Medical Journal. "They sound quite staggering but it's actually quite simple. We have a totally different approach to weight loss from most other people," he says.

Gately, a lecturer in exercise, physiology and health at Leeds Metropolitan University, which runs the programme, spent eight years researching childhood obesity at a weight-loss camp in America. He found that the campers were given too little food, and the exercise was too regimented. "All the programmes were inappropriate because they concentrated on burning up calories. They required running and hard cycling, and nobody gets a buzz out of that," he says. With no buzz, many of the children failed to remain active when camp was over, and the weight soon piled back on.

The aim of the Bradford camp is to educate the children to eat healthily, and to inspire a passion for activity which they will take away with them.

Gately isn't interested in huge weight loss, as it is more likely to be regained. Children take part in six sessions of "fun" activities a day, which include hip-hop aerobics, canoeing, netball, kickball, basketball, racquet ball and swimming. The children have to organise some activities themselves, as practice for when they leave the camp. Evenings are spent bowling, going to the cinema, team building and going to discos. Far from being starved, campers are offered a range of low-fat food, including pizza, curry, risotto, roast chicken, and sweet and sour pork. Parents are also sent information packs on how to prepare balanced meals.

Attending the camp costs around £350 a week, and programmes run for two to six weeks. With 150 campers this year (aged from nine to 18), the university should break even for the first time. Any future profits will go back into the programme to bring down fees.

Half of those who were on the programme last year are returning again this summer. Gately says the main reason is because they had such a good time. Others are after further guidance. One such is Richard, 11, who is tucking into a breakfast of cereal, toast and fruit. His face is barely visible underneath a black baseball cap bearing a picture of a skull. An unsuccessful dieter, he arrived weighing seven-and-a-half stone. For his age and height he should have been about six stone.

"My mum saw the camp advertised and I thought it was a really good idea. I was sick of the diets and sick of being bullied at school. They would hit me, and I couldn't run as fast as them so I couldn't go and hit them back," says Richard, who lives near Coventry. "I didn't do enough exercise. When I played football at school nobody would pass to me. Obviously they wanted to win and they knew I couldn't play very well. I just watched TV in the evenings. I was eating quite a lot of junk food like pizzas, burgers and chocolate."

After three "really, really fun" weeks at the camp Richard lost three-quarters of a stone. However, he now weighs eight stone. "It made me feel pretty sad, but my mum pointed out that I was growing a lot. But I've also probably put some back on because I've been eating more." It was his idea to return this year. "I want to lose about half a stone, but a bigger part of coming back is to have such fun again." He has since moved schools and is no longer bullied. "There are more people who are overweight at my new school," he says.

From the school hall comes the sound of funky music and cries of "jab, body, jab, cross, jab, body, jab, cross". Instructor and director of education Kacy Mackreth, 28, from Massachusetts, is taking a boys' boxercise class. In front of her is a sea of round, sweaty faces. While some campers are fixed in total concentration, others let lack of co-ordination get the better of them. One wipes his glasses with the bottom of his T-shirt, revealing a pendulous stomach covered in pink stretch marks.

In the front row is blond Marc Cullen, 16, from Eastbourne, back at the camp for the second time. He arrived last year weighing 17 stone (about four stone overweight), which he blames on an underactive thyroid. After three weeks at camp he lost two stone. "It was fun because of the constant sport. I still keep in touch with some of the friends I made," he says. He has managed to maintain the weight loss, returned to lose more, and hopes eventually to join the Navy. "I came back this year to have some fun and meet new people. I also want to get fitter, and lose another stone. It's a good place, I like it. The food's very good. Sometimes you get too much, really. It's more regular - you have to eat three meals a day. At home you just eat when you want to," he says.

Opting for the easier way to do push-ups - against the wall rather than on the floor - is 15-year-old Jordan Foy, from Bury, Lancashire. "I used to pig out at homeon crisps, burgers, chips, chocolate, McDonald's and Burger King. I was just sat in my room playing on the computer or watching telly. They called me 'Fat Bastard' at school. It really upset me," remembers Jordan, who is ruddy of cheek even when not exercising.

He arrived at the camp last year weighing 12-and-a-half stone; he left a stone lighter. "It was good. I got to do loads of new stuff I'd never done before, like canoeing. At the end I wasn't carrying so much weight so I was just walking normally." Jordan, has, however, put back on one-and-a half stone, though some of it will be due to his increased height. "I stopped staying up in my room and started getting the exercise in, but there was a bit too much of McDonald's, Burger King and Kentucky. It was nice to eat. Now I feel heavy again when I walk." This year he hopes to lose a stone. How will he keep it off? "I won't start eating fatty foods again. My dad will encourage me because he's on a diet as well. He's going to stop my pocket money so I can't go to McDonald's."

The class is nearing the end and the boys are asked to sit cross-legged and lean forward. The instructor rests her elbow on the floor. Two of the boys can barely touch it with their fingers.

Eating lunch - today a choice of filled baked potatoes or sandwiches - is 14-year-old Lucy Burton from London. Before she came to the camp last year she had tried various slimming clubs, but regained the weight she lost. But she has also regained most of the weight she lost at camp over a three-week period last year. She came a cropper at Christmas, when not only did the eating go awry, but she also stopped exercising so often. She is now size 16 to 18. "My downfall is mostly chocolate bars and sweets. I let myself down, but I'll try harder this time. I want to lose quite a bit. I'd rather be nearer the same size as my friends. I wanted to give the camp a second go because it was mostly my fault for not trying hard enough, and not having enough will-power. My mum suggested coming back and I said I would give it a go. I feel very bad that they spent all that money. I love the camp though, it's great fun and I love the exercise."

Eleven-year-old Sophia Vasiliou, from London, turns heads as she walks around the camp. She looks about 14, and her short shorts and skimpy top reveal the sort of figure which makes some of her fellow campers question her very presence. She arrived last year weighing nine-and-a-half stone, instead of the recommended eight. Bullies at school would taunt her that she would break a horse's back if she ever went riding. "I wasn't doing much exercise and was pigging out at home," she confesses. She lost a stone last year, and has kept it off. "I enjoyed it so much I wanted to come back again. Everyone was in the same boat as me," she says. This year she hopes to lose half a stone. "The camp is so much fun, I want to stay another week. And I would like to be just a little bit slimmer. I'm the youngest out of my friends, but still the biggest - and I want to fit in with them."

It's an understandable ambition for an 11-year-old girl. And whether or not she succeeds, she will at least have spent one summer "fitting in" with the friends she has made at Bradford.

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