Objective: There is good evidence that youth attending weight loss camps in the UK and US are successful at achieving weight loss. Limited research suggests improvement in body image and self-esteem as well. This study evaluated changes in eight psychosocial variables following participation in a weight loss camp and examined the role of gender, age, length of stay, and body mass index (BMI) in these changes.
Methods: This was an observational and self-report study of 130 participants (mean age = 12.8; mean BMI = 33.5; 70% female; 77% Caucasian). The program consisted of an 1800 kcal/day diet, daily supervised physical activities, cooking/nutrition classes, and weekly psycho-educational/support groups led by psychology staff. Participants completed measures of anti-fat attitudes, values (e.g., value placed on appearance, athletic ability, popularity), body- and self-esteem, weight- and health-related quality of life, self-efficacy, and depressive symptoms.
Results: Participants experienced significant BMI reduction (average decrease of 7.5 kg [standard deviation, SD = 4.2] and 2.9 BMI points [SD = 1.4]). Participants also exhibited significant improvements in body esteem, self-esteem, self-efficacy, generic and weight-related quality of life, anti-fat attitudes, and the importance placed on appearance. Changes in self-efficacy, physical functioning and social functioning remained significant even after adjusting for initial zBMI, BMI change, and length of stay. Gender differences were found on changes in self-efficacy, depressive symptoms, and social functioning.
Conclusion: Participation in weight loss programs in a group setting, such as a camp, may have added benefit beyond BMI reduction. Greater attention to changes in psychosocial variables may be warranted when designing such programs for youth.