Is Sending A Fat Teenager Away From Home A Good Idea?

Wellspring Academy of the Carolinas costs $6,250 a month, which means staying there a year costs more than a year at Harvard, according to the Washington Post. Wellspring is a "highly structured therapeutic boarding school for rapid weight loss and intensive behavior therapy." It's fat camp meets boarding school, and kids there do lose weight: Terry Henry enrolled in September 2004 when he was 15. At the time, he weighed 558 pounds. He left 15 months later weighing 253 pounds and today weighs about 278 pounds. But not all stories are success stories. And author Stephanie Klein has a new book, Moose: A Memoir of Fat Camp, in which she recalls the awful reality of being an overweight teen. The most surprising thing about fat camp, Klein tells Newsweek, was that "They weighed us on meat scales. The kids who were too heavy got weighed on a truck scale at the truck stop." It was, in a word, "Humiliating."

She continues: "It's unbelievable to me, even to this day. They had barbed wire all around camp to keep us in so we didn't sneak out at night to go find food elsewhere. One parent sent menus from local restaurants nearby. Because we were so deprived, we would at night read the menu items out loud and imagine how they tasted."

Though Wellspring has success stories, it also has kids like Jahcobie Cosom, 18, of Dorchester, Mass. Cosom lost 167 pounds at the school and 30 during his first month home. But he's gained 260 pounds in less than a year and now weighs 562 lbs. (He is scheduled to undergo gastric bypass surgery this summer.) Still, parents who have tried everything see "therapeutic boarding school" as their last chance. "It will bankrupt us to do this," says one mom whose 17-year-old son weighs 300 pounds and suffers from high blood pressure. "But we were looking at that — or his life."

As for Klein, she says she's fed up with "fatnalysis."

People can analyze it to death. People can say you're fat because you're filling a void, or you eat for all these emotional reasons. I said I don't need to focus on this anymore. It doesn't matter why I'm fat. Let's fix it. I don't think fixing it involves searching into my past and analyzing every last reason why I like cheese. It's much more important for me to focus on my daily habits and what can I do to possibly change certain habits and give myself tools to get through whatever I have to get through. Especially as a child, you don't need to hear about it all the time. Focus on developing talents.

Here's a question: Anyone can lose weight when they're taken out of their usual environment. How can you be sure a camp or "therapeutic school" is going to work long term? And is it worth bankruptcy to find out?

'Fat School' [Washington Post]

Fatgirl Slim [Newsweek]