|Campers enjoy a game of basketball at the Take Off 4-Health healthy lifestyle camp, a program that works to instill healthy habits for overweight youth. (Photos by Cliff Hollis)
Take Off 4-Health camp provides tools for healthy living
By Crystal Baity
When Josh Wall’s campers return home, he’s encouraged they will use what they learned the past three weeks to remain physically fit and active.
Wall, an East Carolina University exercise physiology major from Knightdale, has been physical activity counselor this summer for Take Off 4-Health, a healthy lifestyle camp for overweight youth ages 12-18 led by ECU, N.C. State University and 4-H.
“My main job is to make sure everybody is having a good time and to make sure everybody is doing everything safely,” said Wall, 22, who graduates in December and plans to apply to ECU’s physical therapy doctoral program.
Goals are for participants to lose weight, build self-esteem, and learn tools for a healthy lifestyle while reducing their risks of developing chronic disease – and to have fun while doing it, said Dr. David Collier, an associate professor of pediatrics at the Brody School of Medicine and director of the ECU Pediatric Healthy Weight Research and Treatment Center.
“We’re focused on taking it home,” Wall said. “We’re trying to give the kids the tools to succeed not only at camp but at home.”
One tool is developing an individualized physical activity plan for each camper with things they like to do, like basketball, which is one of 14-year-old Gavin Warren’s favorite activities.
|Keyante Mitchell, 14, of Grifton enjoys healthy exercise during the Take Off 4-Health Camp in Columbia.
In his first year at camp, Warren said he has learned about mindful eating and portion size, and using the “talk test” to make sure he is working at his highest level during exercising.
“This camp is really fun,” said Warren of Greenville, who has enjoyed fishing and crabbing on the Albemarle Sound at the Eastern 4-H Center in Columbia, where camp has been held the past four summers.
Wall has also taught campers about the heart as a muscle, how to monitor their heart rate, how to safely increase their exercise intensity, and how to take their pulse. Recreational activities include swimming, boating, hiking, archery and team sports.
“We are trying to prevent injury,” he said. “Because of the increased weight, there is more stress on the knees and ankles and they have a greater susceptibility to injuries.”
Wall has been at camp since July 24, but preparations began earlier this summer under the direction of Dr. Amy Gross McMillan, associate professor of physical therapy in the College of Allied Health Sciences, who has structured and monitored all physical activities at camp and has trained Wall and all 4-H counselors in concepts of “safe” physical activity for overweight youth.
“Based on my research findings and my perspective as a physical therapist, I’m concerned about how these kids move because they are at high risk for joint pain and injuries,” said Gross McMillan, who also conducts research and works with pediatric clients in both ECU Physical Therapy labs and clinics.
The camp has been so successful that it is attracting the attention of other groups, such as the national Easter Seals organization, across the country as a model for their programming, Gross McMillan said.
Keyante Mitchell, 14, of Grifton enjoyed a game of pick up basketball with Warren and counselors. It’s his first time at camp, and he has enjoyed going on walks along with learning to stretch and read nutrition labels as part of managing his weight. “At home, I might take 10,000 steps (per day) but here I take about 30,000 steps,” he said.
A little muscle soreness is not uncommon, Wall said, because many of the youth arrived at camp with an average of about 2,000 to 3,000 steps per day. At camp, they are getting up to nine times that amount at upwards of 27,000 steps per day, Wall said.
There’s even a “step count” competition among the campers to see who can take the most steps each day, led by lifestyle coaches that include five ECU health psychology students Marissa Errickson, Taylor Rush, Alicia Moran, Jessica Tomasula and Jessica Hauf under the direction of Dr. Lesley Lutes, associate professor of psychology at ECU.
“They take the step count every night and set an activity goal and nutrition goal for the following day,” Wall said.
Counselors and coaches have seen improvement in overall health, including an average goal of eight to10 pounds of weight loss for each camper, Wall said.
Interactive and hands-on educational sessions have focused on healthy eating, increased activity, self-esteem and body image. Team-building activities included challenge courses and a climbing wall. And the camp included traditional camp activities such as arts and crafts, ecology, talent shows and campfires.
Other ECU students who have worked at the healthy lifestyle camp include physical activity volunteer Kofi Monney and group therapists Chelsea Westbrook and Danielle Beres working with Dr. Keeley Pratt, a supervisor from ECU’s Medical Family Therapy program in the Department of Child Development & Family Relations.