The Wall Street Journal published a blog titled Foster Care Proposed as Solution for Extreme Childhood Obesity written by Patrick G. Lee. In the article, the author sites an opinion piece published in the Journal of the American Medical Association suggesting state intervention in the form of foster care as an alternative for treating children with extreme obesity (State Intervention in Life-Threatening Childhood Obesity). The premise is that foster care would be more desirable than invasive surgeries which include their own health risks to treat obesity in children. Of course, this proposed ‘treatment’ caught the attention of child welfare advocates and medical professionals taking up both sides of the debate.
I would propose that another option be considered. As far as I know, this does not exist, although I could be wrong. My proposal: Family Health Camps. There are camps for kids that focus on health and weight loss. And there are spas and residential programs for adults trying to lose weight and get healthy. Why not combine the two? My Family Health Camp would address physical activity, healthy eating, relationship building, emotional and spiritual well-being of the entire family. Healthy parenting would be an integral part of the programming to ensure that the benefits are taken home after participation in the program.
How would this differ from programming received at the camps for kids or spas for adults? The emphasis would be on developing healthy habits as a family so that all members are engaged and benefiting from the experience. In addition to the healthy lifestyle activities, relationships that lead to unhealthy behaviors could be addressed. Anyone who has worked in the child welfare and juvenile justice systems knows that one major impediment to success in reunification is that the children/youth are often returned to homes and neighborhoods where there is dysfunction–the same dysfunction that resulted in their being removed. A youth who has participated in a drug rehab program will probably struggle if returned to a neighborhood or school where the use of drugs and alcohol is common or their friends/family are using. The same is likely true to some extent when kids attend weight loss programs. Eating vegetables and whole grains for a week or two or three at a camp is great but does little good if the child returns home to a diet of fast food and potato chips.
My Family Health Camp would be structured to provide some of the same activities that families might do on a summer vacation. Think of it as a summer vacation with health benefits. There would be outdoor activities such as swimming, canoeing, bicycling, and sports. While the children/youth are participating in some of the ‘kid’ activities, adults could be taking part in ‘spa-like’ activities, golfing, yoga, Tai Chi, etc. with educational programming focusing on healthy lifestyles. And joint activities could focus on relationship building and promoting positive parenting; activities and skill development that would be transferable after the experience.
In my ideal world, there might be some insurance companies willing to cover some of the cost of attendance. After all, insurance companies would benefit in reduced health care costs that often accompany obesity such as treatment for diabetes or hypertension/high blood pressure. Parents and teens might also have an option of attending at a reduced cost for, say, helping in food preparation. What a great way to develop culinary skills and learn healthy food preparation! As is often the case, I can think of dozens of other programming options that would be healthy, educational, and most importantly, fun! And certainly would be more effective than foster care in supporting and building strong, healthy families.