Overweight and Obesity: An Investigation of Contributing Variables in a Specific "At-Risk" Pediatric Population
Neph, Jennifer M.
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Imagine stepping back in time 83 years; it is now 1916 and the youth of Kalamazoo County are wandering around in a world completely foreign to them. To clarify, these youth we are imagining are the underprivileged youth of the county, and we are watching them not within the city limits of Kalamazoo, but on the shores of Pretty Lake, 12.5 miles west of Kalamazoo in Texas Township. Pretty Lake Vacation Camp (PLVC) was founded in 1916 by Mr. Edward Desenberg, and has since provided the opportunity for nearly 40,000 Kalamazoo county youth to attend summer camp. The mission of PLVC is to "create a fun environment in which children are challenged to expand their abilities to the fullest and to be the best they can be." Over the course of their stay, children learn how to interact with others and make new friends, in turn building self-esteem and developing problem-solving skills. Presently, the not-for-profit summer camp is a gift from the community to the "at-risk" children of the county who cannot afford to buy a week at other camps. Let's take a look back, again, to the first year of the camp. Do you notice how slim the majority of these children are? This stature can actually be attributed to malnutrition, explaining why PLVC has historically measured the success of each summer season by the number of pounds of flesh gained by each child. As early as 1926, a Kalamazoo Gazette headline heralds: "Young America Gains 2,046 Pounds at Pretty Lake." During this 1926 season, the article reports that the "476 boys and girls at PLVC gained an average of 4 3/10 pounds [each]" (Kalamazoo Gazette, 1926). Fast forward to the year 1935, where the headline reads: "Weight is Among Benefits Gained at Pretty Lake" (Kalamazoo Gazette, 7-28-1935). Well stated, the article reads "Among the many things which a Pretty Laker takes away from camp, one of the most important items is several pounds of weight." This summer season, the children gained an average of 2.35 pounds each. The importance of this nutritional "beef-up" is understood when one realizes that inadequately balanced diets resulted in malnutrition; "about 1/4 of the children never had milk to drink as part of their regular diet at home" (Kalamazoo Gazette, 8-27-1939). When the camp began a program for African American children in 1945, "some of the children gained as much as nine pounds during the two weeks" (Kalamazoo Gazette, 9-2-1945). Fast forward to the year 1999; Pretty Lake Vacation Camp no longer measures success in number of pounds gained per child, though providing nutritionally well-balanced meals and snacks remains an integral facet of camp. On the verge of a new millennium, it has been reported by the Centers for Disease Control that "one in five children in the United States between the ages of 6 and 17 is overweight" (Mayo). Does this mean the days of gross malnutrition and the need to "beef-up" under-privileged youth are over? Does this trend for overweight and obesity seen in the Nation as a whole pertain to the "at-risk" children of Kalamazoo County, to those same campers at PLVC that in 1939 consumed "10,400 quarts of milk, 763 pounds of butter, 1,000 pounds of sugar, 3, 100 loaves of bread, 400 pounds of roasted meat, 1000 quarts of orange juice, and 12 cases of uncooked cereal" (Kalamazoo Gazette, 8-27-1939)?