At $28k a semester, S.C. program tackles child obesity

When he was seven, Cameron Larkins was told by his doctor he wouldn't live 21 because of his weight problem. He enrolled in a weight-loss program called Mindstream Academy for four months at $28,000 a semester.
CBS News

(CBS News) BLUFTON, S.C. - There's an epidemic of childhood obesity. On Tuesday, we learned it's a greater risk than we knew. A new UCLA study says that obese children are nearly twice as likely to have related health problems, everything from asthma to learning disabilities. But a program in South Carolina is bringing kids back from obesity.

"The doctor told me when I was seven and when I was eight that I wouldn't live past 21," said Cameron Larkins, "and when I was nine it just hit me smack in the face: 'Oh, I'm going to die.'"

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Larkins had reached 260 pounds by age 10.

"I would eat over-sized portions," he said. "I would just eat and eat just because the food was there -- just really, really unhealthy habits."

Following his experience at MindStream Academy, Cameron Larkins lost 50 pounds. CBS News

Larkins is now 12. He's the youngest of 15 students from his Independence, Missouri school system who spent the last four months in South Carolina at a $28,000-a-semester weight-loss program called MindStream Academy.

The day starts with a two-mile jog, followed by a healthy breakfast, and nutrition classes where students learn portion control and healthier eating habits.

Teachers check-in remotely to keep students on track with their studies. In counseling sessions, teens share frustrations and feelings about their progress. And horseback riding is used to build confidence.

So why can't these lessons be learned closer to home without a price-tag of $28,000 a semester?

"Without an immersive program," said MindStream founder Ray Travaglioni, "where you actually have an opportunity to begin to change the way a young person thinks, it would just be putting a band-aid on it."

He added: "If they go home and they don't get the support that they need, they should be smart enough with what they've learned here and realize how hard it was for them to get to this really good place, that they never want to go back again."

Students are accepted regardless of their financial situation. The Independence public school system pays $5,000 per student. The balance of the camp's tuition is made up through fundraising and family contributions.

Of the 34 teens who've graduated from MindStream, 90 percent have maintained their weight loss.

Cameron Larkins returned home to Independence just before Christmas -- 50 pounds lighter.

"I think I would probably have eaten and not changed my habit,s" he said when asked if he had not come to Mindstream. "And they just would've gotten worse and [I] would've probably eaten myself to death."

His toughest test lies ahead -- returning to his old school, trying to resist old habits.