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Weight Loss Camps Rising In Popularity

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) - A local woman, whose teenage son was overweight, decided she wasn't going to let him go through life that way.

Her solution was to send him to a weight loss camp.

As it turns out, more and more kids are willingly going to those types of camps not only to get fit, but also save their lives.

Last year, Sean Pankopf was 13 years old, stood 5-feet-6-inches tall and weighed 196 pounds.

According to the weight chart for boys for his height, his weight should have fallen somewhere between 105-125 pounds.

"I'm really sheltered. I never noticed that I was fat - as you call it. I never really noticed. I didn't think much of it," Sean Pankopf said.

However, his mother noticed.

"I just knew in my heart it needed to be something drastic. I didn't know, so I looked and looked on the Internet," Michelle Pankopf said.

What she found was a place called a weight loss camp near Philadelphia named Camp Pocono Trails.

"I was seeing kids on the tape that looked like they were having a lot of fun and I knew it would be hard to meet new people, but I didn't really think of it as a fat camp," Sean said.

Sean went to the camp and the pounds began to melt away.

In three weeks, he had lost 25 pounds. He stayed two more weeks and was down 30 pounds.

As Sean will tell you, the camp is about much more than losing the fat.

"It definitely changed the way I see the world and it gave me a lot more confidence. I was not a good student at all. This year, I have made it on the Honor Roll two times. I have four A's and 2 B's and I am doing really well and I am advancing onto a higher level of math classes," he said.

Camp Pocono Trails is accredited by the American Camp Association, which means its staff - including nutritionists, dieticians and personal trainers - are registered and certified.

The activities they do there are too numerous to name.

According to Sean, that life-changing experience doesn't come for some. He said the camp just doesn't work for everyone.

Many kids lose weight, but gain it all back when they return home to old habits.

"To keep the weight off, you have to want to keep it off," Sean said. "I started going to the gym, following their diet and I've gone to the gym every day for nine months."

Dr. Heba Ismail, Clinical Director of the Weight Management Clinic at Children's Hospital, said the percentage of overweight kids is equal between boys and girls.

So, why is it happening at such an alarming rate?

"I think there are lots of theories out there, how we are eating is affecting our genes, something called epigenetics, all kinds of junk food that's available now, lack of physical activity," Dr. Ismail said.

Camp Pocono Trails runs from mid-June to mid-August and it isn't cheap. It costs $1,500 a week.

For overweight kids like Sean, who really want to change not only their bodies but also their minds, it's a price they and their families are willing to pay.

"It's a huge relief that he looks good, feels good, has more of a confidence level and he wants to motivate other kids," Michelle Pankopf said.

"I'm glad I'm able to say I kept off the weight and really looking forward to going back," Sean said.

To learn more about the camp visit their website here

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