Forever Fit camp teaches kids healthy habits

Campers participate in a Zumba session during Forever Fit Summer Camp.

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) – Indianapolis kids are in the midst of an intensive 6-week summer camp built around a healthy lifestyle and weight loss. Forever Fit Summer Camp is a day-camp running from June 15 to July 24 on a 24-acre farm on the northwest side.

The camp is in its fifth year and serves 35 kids ages 8 to 12 during a critical time of physical and emotional development while they struggle with weight.

“All the time we hear parents say they want to help their kids but they don’t know how,” says Joan SerVaas, president of the Children’s Better Health Institute – which runs the grounds where the camp takes place.

The day camp program was designed in collaboration with physicians, obesity researchers, dietitians, exercise physiologists and health experts and manages to keep kids very active from the moment they arrive each morning between 7:30 a.m. and 8:15 a.m. until they leave at 5 p.m.

The campers are required to walk two laps around a paved trail on the property that stretches 0.6 miles – for a total of 1.2 miles before breakfast. The only time they sit down is during meal times and journaling which accounts for no more than 2 hours out of the 9 hours they spend on the property each day.

Campers step into the chicken coop to check on the hens as part of their daily chores.
Campers step into the chicken coop to check on the hens as part of their daily chores.

“You come to fitness camp and we do laps in the morning and then you eat breakfast, you do chores, we go in the garden and pick up weeds and put tomatoes or vegetables in there,” says Trey Hall, a rising 5th grader spending his first summer at Forever Fit.

The chores consist of cleaning up the kitchen after meals, fetching eggs from the hens on-site, planting vegetables, weeding the garden and learning to cook the produce that’s grown on the farm.

“It’s not that hard to get kids outside to move around and play but also do activities where they’re learning things,” says SerVaas.

Activity is key during Forever Fit as campers take part in a Zumba class on the property's tennis court.
Activity is key during Forever Fit as campers take part in a Zumba class on the property’s tennis court.

The kids also enjoy fun activities like Zumba, swimming and biking in between learning about nutrition and portions.

“We just try to do a healthy balance of introducing the kids to some new foods they’ve never tried or maybe a healthy spin on kid favorites,” says Sam McClintic, one of two students of dietetics on staff for the summer.

McClintic is responsible for cooking and creating a weekly meal plan that includes breakfast, lunch and an afternoon snack.

“I think a lot of the time these kids are hearing some of this stuff for the first time,” says McClintic.

Unlike many “weight” camps, Forever Fit focuses on long-term behavioral change. In each of the last four years the camp has been in existence, 90 percent of all campers lost weight, improved BMI and improved their resting heart rate.

Rising 6th grader Onivea Adams is attending Forever Fit for the third summer in a row.

“It’s about fitness combined with exercise — and its also important to have fun and not change yourself, but change how you eat and how you exercise,” says Adams.

After breakfast, campers learn about portion control during their nutrition lesson.
After breakfast, campers learn about portion control during their nutrition lesson.

The camps costs $100 per camper per week, but about 80 percent of the campers’ families pay either $0, $25 or $50 based on their family income.

During the 6 week summer camp, parents attend weekly sessions conducted by a psychologist that focus on how to incorporate lessons learned by the kids that week. After the summer program, kids come back once a month with their parents for a food demonstration and group meeting where they exercise together.

“We’re the intensive program that will help start a behavioral change and now you take it from here, mom and dad,” says SerVaas.

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