Reporting Liz Collin
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NEW AUBURN, Wis. (WCCO) — For many kids, summer includes a trip to camp where they learn and make new friends but the mission is much bigger at one camp: tackling kids’ widening waistlines.
Campers are finding help to battle obesity in Northwestern Wisconsin. Camp Wabi in New Auburn, Wisconsin also serves as an escape to the often cruel world these kids have grown accustomed to.
Brady Wensel is 13 and weighs 195 pounds.
“They say like fat and another word after it that I can’t repeat,” Wensel said.
Wensel is one of 48, 10 to 14 year olds from Wisconsin and Minnesota who will spend 12 days at Camp Wabi.
In some cases, it may be the first time these kids have let others their age see them in a swimsuit.
“It feels like we’re a family because we all have the same problems. We all look out for each other,” Wensel said.
The camp is in its second year but it’s the first time a camera has been allowed to see what goes on.
The partnership between Mayo Clinic and the YMCA aims to tackle what health professionals consider the biggest health problem in the country — the childhood obesity rate is three times what it was 30 years ago.
John Plewa is the medical director at Camp Wabi.
“The goal of the camp is not weight loss. It’s to teach the kids how to live a healthy life and the weight will take care of itself,” Plewa said.
There are lessons in nutrition. Kids learn what’s really in their food and what that means for them and for the entire two weeks they’re all fed normal portions.
Kids are allowed 1,800 calories a day at Camp Wabi when they may be used to a diet two or three times that.
Ty Pitt-Swanson had no idea the damage he was doing with food when he came to camp last year. His wake-up call came at the age of 12.
Pitt-Swanson’s lost 30 pounds since last summer.
“I feel like I’m really a whole new person,” Pitt-Swanson said.
He’s learned to prepare his own food and the difference daily exercise makes.
“Before I used to sit in my house watching TV,” he said.
He stopped back this year to show other campers what’s possible.
Carol Fahrenkrog is the camp director and works for the YMCA.
“They really do learn that if they don’t make these changes they might die,” Fahrenkrog said.
The real work comes when the kids go home. Parents are given homework while their kids are gone — to get the unhealthy food out.
Wensel knows what changes he’ll make. He’s already on the right track, down 8 pounds since camp started.
It’s a difference Pitt-Swanson says will be permanent for him, summer memories that he says saved his life.
“I want to be here for a long time,” Pitt-Swanson said.
Every camper has lost an average of six pounds at camp alone. There are also reunions every few months with their parents to track how they’re doing. Mayo Health Systems covers $400 of the cost of the camp. Parents pay the other $400.
To find out more about Camp Wabi visit their website.