Healthy Eating and Physical Activity at Residential Summer Camps: An In-Depth Examination of Programming
King, Ellen E.
University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, College of Natural Resources
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Residential summer camps are often thought of as settings for school-aged children to have fun in the outdoors, while participating in a variety of different activities. Research on summer break for school-aged children has shown that this time period can contribute to an increase in children’s sedentary activity and cause weight gain. Yet residential summer camps have previously been overlooked as settings for healthy eating and physical activity programming. The purpose of this research was to identify and examine the efforts that Wisconsin residential summer camps are using that support campers in meeting national physical activity and dietary guidelines, to identify the challenges that these camps face in supporting and promoting healthy eating and physical activity at their camps, and to develop recommendations of current program practices that are consistent with supporting the national recommendations. Data were collected from an online survey and in-person or phone interviews with American Camp Association members to examine Wisconsin residential summer camp programming that provides and promotes healthy eating and physical activity to campers. Thirteen camp directors and owners were purposefully selected or reached through snowball sampling for the interview in order to provide representativeness of the population. Open-ended survey response and interview data were analyzed using NVivo. Results revealed that camp directors in Wisconsin believed their campers were physically active because of the amount of walking each camper had to complete in order to get from one side of camp to the other, in addition to their participation in a variety of program activities. Results indicated that camp directors are trying to provide, or already providing, healthy food that support the national dietary recommendations to their campers. This is achieved either by providing healthy snack and menu options or by limiting dessert and visits to the camp store. The results of this study showed that campers who attend residential summer camps in Wisconsin are meeting or exceeding the national physical activity recommendations and that camp directors are intentionally providing opportunities for their campers to eat healthy food. Residential summer camps in Wisconsin are an ideal setting for the promotion of healthy eating and physical activity for children.