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Wellspring Camps are 1-week to 9-week summer weight loss camps located in New York, California, Florida, Texas, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and England. Wellspring Camps is affiliated with Wellspring, and Wellspring Academy—a weight loss boarding school located in California.
Wellspring Camps serve children, adolescents and young adults ages 5–24. Fifteen per cent of Wellspring campers come from outside the U.S. – Canada, Mexico, Europe and the Middle East.
An older study, from 2005 which includes a small selection of campers and only self-reported data, found that 70 percent of Wellspring campers had maintained the weight or continued to lose in the six to nine months after camp ended; the weight loss afterward averaged 7.4 pounds. Research conducted by Dr. Daniel Kirschenbaum, Wellspring’s Clinical Director and Director of Chicago’s Center for Behavioral Medicine & Sport Psychology, tracks Wellspring's long-term outcomes as compared to other summer weight loss programs. According to Dr. Kirschenbaum’s research, campers consistently demonstrate average weight loss of 4 lbs. per week, and 30 lbs total in 8 weeks. In 6-12 month follow-up studies, the average camper goes on to lose more weight– an additional 5-8 lbs., on average. Over 70% of campers maintain weight loss from camp, or continue losing more weight.
Wellspring's long term outcomes are not founded and have routinely come into question in the medical community. Many physicians and dietitians criticize their low to zero fat approach, and question how successful Wellspring is in creating long term weight loss results. The American Academy of Pediatrics states that children and adolescents must have a minimum of 20 grams of fat per day, but not to exceed 30 grams of fat, in order to maintain healthy brain growth. Wellspring teaches its campers and family that this is not necessary. Ludwig said that he is particularly worried about the effect on vulnerable teenagers who regain weight after their families have sacrificed so much financially to send them to Wellspring. "The sense of failure that can set in afterward could inflict long-term damage, "he said. Pediatric endocrinologist David Ludwig is the director of the obesity program at Children's Hospital in Boston
Wellspring differentiates itself from traditional fat camps, where the focus has historically been on short-term weight loss rather than long-term lifestyle modification. The New York Times reports that more than half of all campers attending traditional weight loss camps are repeat customers, indicating that most of these campers regain substantial amounts of weight within the first year. Wellspring’s research indicates that over 70% of their campers maintain weight loss from camp, or continue losing weight, though independent sources findings state otherwise. Wellspring claims to employ a more scientific approach to diet and activity management and a more comprehensive cognitive behavioral therapy program compared to traditional fat camps. However one must note that at all camps, there are no pediatricians or other medical doctors on staff. The registered dietitians that Wellspring currently employs are only those that are former camp attendees. All personnel at Wellspring camps either are former attendees or parents of alumni. This, in itself, has been criticized by the health community. When the Pennsylvania Board of Pediatrics asked if area medical schools could have their medical school residents monitor the camp for a summer, the board was denied access. The only doctors that are on staff at every Wellspring camp are clinical psychologists that are personally groomed by Dr. Kirschenbaum.
Another Wellspring success story Jahcobie Cosom is now looking at gastric bypass after gaining weight post Wellspring. "Jahcobie Cosom tried the usual diet plans. He lost weight -- for a time -- at a school focused on weight loss. But now, he weighs more than 500 pounds. His next planned stop is gastric bypass surgery." Source: The Washington Post
Activities vary by camp location. Campers have a varied schedule of activities every day, which may include aerobic kickboxing, mountain climbing, Color War, ropes course, surfing, sea kayaking, hiking, white water rafting, camping, snorkeling, beach sports, biking, tubing, volcano climbing, outrigger canoe racing, scavenger hunts, weight training, mini-Olympics, basketball, soccer, and football.
Wellspring currently operates camps throughout the summer in 7 different locations: California, Florida, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas, Wisconsin, and the United Kingdom.
Wellspring has closed multiple locations, these include California, North Carolina, Vancouver, Georgia, and Hawaii. They have also closed their Academy in North Carolina due to low enrollment.
Wellspring Camps are based on the Wellspring Plan, a fitness and weight loss plan designed by individuals considered to be experts in the fields of fitness, weight loss and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). The Plan combines scientific research with an approach that is designed to be simple and sustainable. The goal of the Wellspring Plan is to help campers gain skills and motivation for lifelong healthy living.
The scientific foundation for the Wellspring Plan is based on original research and peer-reviewed journal articles. Wellspring’s Scientific Advisory Board is composed of pediatric obesity professionals. Wellspring’s long-term outcomes—including sustained weight loss and improved health, mood and outlook—have been presented at international conferences and published in peer-reviewed scientific journals.
Wellspring differentiates its camp program from fat camps, on the basis that the Wellspring Plan is designed for long-term behavioral change, not a quick fix for rapid weight loss. While fat camps often succeed in helping campers lose weight quickly, they are known for having little long-term success. A recent study found that 70 percent of Wellspring campers had maintained the weight or continued to lose in the six to nine months after camp ended; the weight loss afterward averaged 7.4 pounds.
The Wellspring Plan is based on the belief that, for weight controllers, simple, clear and easily measured goals help them stay focused. Research has shown that 10,000 steps of activity every day does such things as increase metabolic rate all day and accelerate metabolism of fat. Given that more than 85% of high school students fail to achieve 10,000 steps per day, this is a central goal of Wellspring’s activity management program. This level of activity in adults produces notable health benefits, including a decreased risk of stroke, coronary heart disease, diabetes, fatty liver disease, asthma, depression, and many forms of cancer. Wellspring recommends 10,000 steps per day (each and every day) as the goal for young weight controllers with the belief that, if they hit that goal or surpass it, they'll achieve far more consistent activity than their peers and improve their long-term prospects to lose weight and keep it off
Wellspring’s nutrition plan is based on a low-fat, low-calorie diet that is designed to be sustainable once campers return home. Wellspring claims that this is achieved by teaching campers to cook, order, and identify healthy food choices. Daily menus include three meals and two snacks and have been developed by registered dietitians. A typical day of controlled foods will include 1,200 calories, 10 g of fat, 50 g of protein, and 30 g of fiber. In addition, Wellspring campers are permitted to have as much "uncontrolled" food as they wish, as long as they measure and self-monitor their eating. Uncontrolled foods include selections such as fat-free yogurts, cottage cheese, egg salad, tuna salad, fresh fat-free soups, fruits, vegetables, salads. Some campers choose 2,000 or more calories per day. Campers are asked to write down everything they eat, so that it can be processed and discussed with their Behavioral Coach.
Wellspring’s fitness and weight loss camps provide cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) for every camper because CBT has been proven in many scientific studies to help children, teens, and adults change diet and activity behaviors better than providing just education or advice. Specifically, cognitive-behavioral therapy involves goal-setting and tracking, problem solving, and stress management training to help weight controllers change permanently. Wellspring employs Masters- and Doctoral-level therapists (called behavioral coaches) to provide both one-on-one and group therapy sessions for campers. Behavioral Coaches also stay in regular contact with families and campers for the year following camp as part of Wellspring’s Continuing Care Program.
2-day family workshops are scheduled at the end of each camp session. Attending families participate in all aspects of the program and learn the details of the Wellspring Plan and the key behaviors they can support at home.
Wellspring offers a Continuing Care program that lasts until June 1 of the year following camp attendance. They believe that participation in their Continuing Care program improves long-term outcomes. Therefore, campers who remain consistently active in the Continuing Care program for 3 months after completing camp receive a full refund of the cost of the Continuing Care program ($500 as of April 22, 2009). Campers and their families access online accounts for daily logging of food intake, goal setting, journaling, and weekly weigh-ins. Wellspring Behavioral Coaches observe campers' progress and communicate with them in private online discussions. "Only about one-third of the campers at Camp Wellspring and Wellspring Adventure Camp adhered to its after-care program," as reported by the New York Times.
Wellspring opened their first two summer camps in June 2004 under the corporate name Healthy Living Academies. Camp Wellspring, located in the Adirondack Mountains of New York, accepted women ages 16 – 23. Wellspring Adventure Camp, in the mountains of North Carolina, admitted boys and girls ages 10–17 years old. Ryan Craig, a former member of the Aspen Education Board of Directors was appointed president of Healthy Living Academies.
Healthy Living Academies' clinical program is headed up by Daniel S. Kirschenbaum, Ph.D., chosen because of his experience in developing successful weight loss programs for hospitals across the country. He is a past president of the Division of Exercise and Sport Psychology of the American Psychological Association and has authored over 100 scientific articles and eight books, including Treatment of Childhood and Adolescent Obesity and The 9 Truths About Weight Loss. The latter was unanimously endorsed by the Board of Directors of the American Council on Exercise as "the best book ever written for the public on how to lose weight and keep it off."
Original advisory board
For the launch of its camp program, Healthy Living Academies assembled an Advisory Board consisting of experts in pediatric obesity. These Board members included: Kelly D. Brownell, Ph.D., Professor and Chair of Psychology at Yale University and Director of the Yale Center for Eating and Weight Disorders; Georgia Kostas, M.P.H., R.D., Director of Nutrition at the Cooper Clinic, Dallas, and author of The Cooper Clinic Solution to the Diet Revolution; Melinda Sothern, Ph.D. of Louisiana State University Health Sciences and Pennington Centers, and author of Trim Kids, The Proven 12-Week Plan That Has Helped Thousands of Children Achieve a Healthier Weight; and Dennis Styne, MD, Rumsey Chair of Pediatric Endocrinology at the University of California Davis, a pediatric endocrinologist who specializes in pediatric obesity and its complications.
A recent review indicated that immersion treatments for childhood and adolescent obesity that included cognitive-behavior therapy (CBT) averaged reductions in percentage overweight about 200% greater than those reported in a recent meta-analysis of outpatient treatments (-30% vs. -9% at follow-up).
Since 2004, Wellspring Camps, the operator of 11 camps in 2009, has followed an immersion approach that emphasizes CBT, a very low fat diet, an activity goal of 10,000 steps per day, consistent self-monitoring and the development of healthy obsessions. The present study was the fifth follow-up conducted on Wellspring Camps. Unlike the prior follow-ups, all of which relied on reports of weights and heights by parents, this 6-9 month follow-up from the 2008 camps included parental reports followed by objective assessments provided by healthcare professionals.
The present research was completed to continue to assess the impact of Wellspring’s approach to immersion treatment and to examine the validity of the parental reporting process. Methods: To date, 61% of the targeted sample of parents (n= 81) of campers (age M=15.1, SD=3.2) have provided reports, with 20% subsequently and independently obtained from healthcare workers (80% parental and 60% healthcare provider response rates are expected within the next month).
The pattern of changes in percent overweight from one year prior to camp through the follow-up in 2008 mirrored the four prior evaluations. That is, based on reports from parents, on average, campers appeared to increase overweight from one year to the beginning of camp, decreased dramatically during camp and then decreased again from the end of camp to follow-up. In the four prior evaluations the changes in these points of time were statistically significant (ps<.05).
Prior year sample sizes ranged from 100 (2004) to nearly 400 (2005). Analysis of the changes for the present sample of 49 campers showed the usual significant changes from one year prior until the end of camp. However, only the girls showed a trend toward reduced percentage overweight from the end of camp to follow-up (p=.059). A comparison of parent and healthcare provider data showed a high correlation (r=.985, p<.001) and an average discrepancy in weight of 1.7%.
Campers tended to lose more weight from pre-camp to follow-up if they: attended for more weeks; lost more weight during camp; and, self-monitored more consistently and wrote more in their personal journals during camp (all ps<.01).
This preliminary follow-up of the impact of Wellspring Camps’ immersion program showed a pattern close to that observed in prior years, albeit somewhat under-powered. Factors associated with favorable long-term outcomes, also in accord with prior evaluations, generally showed that greater engagement in the immersion program positively correlated with better results at follow-up. The initial checks on the accuracy of reports from parents showed a strong relationship with more objective assessments, although a higher percentage of external validity checks is warranted to provide a better test.
- http://www.wellspringcamps.com, April 23, 2009
- Abraham, Carolyn, “Weight Training,” The Globe and Mail, September 13, 2008
- Kirschenbaum, D.S., Craig, R.D., Decker, T.M., & Germann, J.N. (under review). The remarkable potential of scientifically based immersion programs for the treatment of childhood and adolescent obesity: Wellspring camps demonstrate substantial weight loss even during a follow-up period. Obesity Research.
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- http://www.wellspringcamps.com/get_in_shape.html, April 21, 2009
- Cynthia Levin, Psy.D., Interview with Daniel S. Kirschenbaum, Ph.D., http://www.mentalhelp.net/poc/view_doc.php?type=doc&id=812, April 29, 2009
- http://www.wellspringweightloss.com/board.html, April 22, 2009
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- KIMBERLY STAUFFER, “New Program Helps Youth Learn How to Battle Obesity,” The Houston Chronicle, April 23, 2008
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- http://www.cdc.gov/NCCDPHP/SGR/adults.htm, April 23, 2009
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- Ann Yelmokas McDermott, PhD, MS; Amar Shah, Medscape General Medicine. 2007; 9(3):18.
- Daniel S. Kirschenbaum, Ph.D., Ryan D. Craig, J.D., Kristina Pecora Kelly, M.A., Julie N. Germann, Ph.D. “Treatment and Innovation”, Obesity Management, December, 2007
- http://www.wellspringweightloss.com/pdf_files/HLA_News_Release.pdf, April 21, 2009
- http://www.chicagocbm.com/clinic/directors/, April 21, 2009
- A Fifth Follow-up of Wellspring Camps’ Approach to Immersion Treatment for Adolescent Obesity, Daniel S. Kirschenbaum, Kristina Pecora Kelly, Michelle Kwandham & Julie N. Germann