Earlier this summer, Adam Manning could have been a poster boy for a generation of unfit, unhealthy teenagers.
He ate poorly, rarely exercised and spent hours each day playing video games.
As a result, the 15-year-old Pointe Claire youngster carried 235 pounds on his six-foot frame.
But after spending nine weeks at a camp designed to help overweight teenagers adopt a healthier lifestyle, he is a new person.
He has shed about 10 pounds, learned how to cook nutritious food and embraced the importance of regular exercise.
"Sometimes when I look in the mirror, I just laugh," Adam said, referring to his firmer muscles and newly toned body. "None of my clothes fit me anymore."
Adam said he enrolled in the camp because he was bored of playing video games and his low stamina was preventing him from keeping up with schoolmates during gym class.
The camp, based at the Atwater Club downtown, is run by the McGill Cardiovascular Health Improvement Program, a non-profit group comprising physicians and health-care professionals dedicated to the prevention and treatment of cardiovascular disease, obesity and diabetes.
When Marla Gold wanted to find 22 overweight teenagers to take part in the camp, called CHIP 4 Teens, she didn't have to look very far.
After a few telephone calls to pediatricians and nutritionists, she was able to fill all the spots. Another 20 names were placed on a waiting list.
The fitness camp, the first of its kind in Montreal, began last month, at a time when obesity rates across North America are soaring, especially among teenagers.
In 2004, eight per cent of children (about 500,000 people) age 2 to 17 were obese - compared with three per cent in 1979, according to a Statistics Canada study made public last month. Among teenagers, 12 to 15 per cent are overweight or obese.
The study also confirmed the more teenagers watch television, play video games or use the computer, the greater chance they have of being overweight or obese.
"We are culturally programmed not to exercise," said Gold, program director of CHIP.
"Kids watch television or play on the computer instead of going out and kicking a soccer ball. They lead such sedentary lives."
At their first weigh-in, the teenagers were between 25 and 100 pounds overweight.
"Some of them couldn't talk about their weight without crying," she said.
If Adam hadn't registered for the camp, he said he would have spent the summer at home doing "absolutely nothing."
Instead, he plays soccer and baseball three mornings a week and does weight training and cardiovascular exercises in the afternoon. The students had sessions with a dietitian, and a chef taught them how to make fruit smoothies, low-fat muffins and healthy sandwich wraps.
"Before I came here, I couldn't do three push-ups - but now I can do about 30," Adam said last week during an interview at the Atwater Club, where the teenagers are put through an exercise routine three days a week.
Gold said she plans to run the camp next year because it has been a big hit with the students.Teens get lifestyle coaching
"The kids all say they want to come back," she said. "The parents are thrilled with the results. Some said they plan to join the gym and go with their kids."
A Montreal doctor, who will begin assessing the students' fitness levels next week, said the organizers hope to conduct spot checks on some of them over the school year to determine whether the camp was a success.
"We need to see whether they are keeping the habits that they picked up at camp," said Laurent Legault, director of the weight management clinic at the Montreal Children's Hospital.
As part of the program, a nutritionist has also met the parents to ensure nutritious foods are being brought into the house.
"The vast majority of children who have a weight problem have one or both of their parents who have a weight issue," Legault said.
Parents paid $200 for their children to attend the camp. The actual cost was $2,000, but organizers were able to subsidize 90 per cent of the fee through fundraising activities.
After spending her summer at the fitness camp, Ashton Dumas said she has learned not just how to lose weight, but how to stay fit.
"It's not just about being skinny," said Ashton, who has lost about 15 pounds over the summer.
So instead of parking herself in front of the television, the 14-year-old Beaconsfield student now walks, rides her bike or swims much more often.
Ashton said her life has changed dramatically since she lost 40 pounds over the last 18 months.
"When I looked in the mirror, I was disgusted with what I saw," she said of her formerly 180-pound body.
Ashton, who is 5 feet, 3 inches tall and now weighs 140 pounds, said she was teased relentlessly by elementary school classmates who called her "the big gorilla."
"I could no longer take people making fun of me," she said. "Now, I have so much more self-confidence."
As camp wrapped up last week, Adam said he plans to join his local gym so he can continue swimming and doing weight training. He is also planning a few shopping trips before school starts.
"I keep telling my mom I need a new wardrobe."
© The Gazette (Montreal) 2005