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Open Access Research

Residential summer camp: a new venue for nutrition education and physical activity promotion

Alison K Ventura1* and Barry A Garst2

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Nutrition Sciences, College of Nursing and Health Professions, Drexel University, Philadelphia, PA, USA

2 American Camp Association, Martinsville, IN, USA

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International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity 2013, 10:64  doi:10.1186/1479-5868-10-64

Published: 24 May 2013

Abstract

Background

Millions of children attend residential summer camps each year. However, few studies have examined the potential of camps for obesity prevention efforts. Research in the domain of positive youth development has shown that camp programs as short as one week have both short- and long-term positive effects on self-esteem, self-efficacy and other youth outcomes. The objective of the present study was to highlight the potential of resident camps as promising venues for the promotion of healthy eating and physical activity behaviors in the children who attend.

Methods

Data for this study came from the American Camp Association 2007 Emerging Issues Survey. This survey assessed camp professionals’ perspectives on a diverse array of issues, including the healthy eating and physical activity of children. Data analysis focused on responses from 247 camp professionals whose camps offered resident camp programs.

Results

Descriptive and Chi-square statistics were calculated. Ninety-two percent of camp professionals reported that the healthy eating and physical activity of campers was an “important” or “very important” issue for camps. The majority of camps reported offering vegetarian options, healthy snacks and salad bars, and allergen-free options. Additionally, 86% of camp professionals indicated that they had implemented one or more strategies to address concerns related to the unhealthy eating behaviors of children, with top strategies including increasing the availability of fruits and vegetables, increasing the availability of healthy drink options, and improving the nutritional quality of menus. Fewer camp professionals (50%) indicated they had implemented strategies to increase children’s physical activity levels, but many professionals indicated that their camp programs were inherently active and additional strategies to promote physical activity were not necessary. Associations were found between camp affiliation and food options available to campers.

Conclusions

The majority of camp professionals believe the healthy eating and physical activity of children are important issues for camps and have implemented strategies to address these issues. An important question for future research is to examine whether these strategies are effective in promoting healthy eating and physical activity behaviors in children, as well as ways that camp programs could be improved.

Keywords:
Healthy eating; Physical activity; Children; Residential summer camps; Obesity prevention