CONCORD -- Dariella Ledezma didn't realize that when she enrolled her daughter, Darianna Perez-Ledezma, in Camp FUN she would be picking up a personal shopper.
Camp FUN (Food and Understanding Nutrition), a grant-funded partnership between Concord's Community Youth Center and UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital, is a six-week summer fitness program for obese children ages 9-12. The kids, referred to the camp by their pediatricians, are taught healthy life skills -- nutrition and food shopping among them.
As Ledezma, a Pittsburg resident, discovered, those lessons follow the kids home from school.
"Now when we go to the supermarket, Darianna goes, 'You know we cannot eat ketchup,' " Ledezma said. "We've changed everything -- whole wheat, more vegetables, more salad, more fruit, water. I wish my parents had taught me that."
The camp, overseen by Dr. Carolyn Jasik, medical director and assistant professor of pediatrics at UCSF, will conclude its third year Friday with a garden burger barbecue.
"It's not a weight-loss program," Jasik said. "The goal is a lifestyle change boost to build skills and knowledge."
Studies suggest there is a need for change. A 2010 statewide survey found that 33.9 percent of children in Contra Costa County are overweight or obese, as defined by body mass index. Several cities, including San Pablo, Richmond, Pittsburg, Antioch, Concord, Hercules and Oakley rank above the county benchmark.
According to a UCSF release, between 50 and 70 percent of school-age children report that they never exercise, and less than half of California schools meet the mandated benchmark of 200 minutes of physical education every 10 days. Summer vacation is especially problematic, Jasik said, a time when kids can gain from seven to 10 pounds.
Obesity, she pointed out, puts kids at risk for cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Camp FUN served more than 70 kids in its first two years, with 90 percent either losing weight or stabilizing, Jasik said. Thirty-two children attended this summer's session. Tuition is $200, but Jasik said some scholarship money is available.
Each day's session, run by 12-14 staff and volunteers, features three hours per day of activities such as hiking, dodgeball, flag football, swimming, tennis, laser tag and soccer. Wednesday is field trip day, when the campers visit the likes of Sky High Trampoline Park and other regional parks. Kids wear pedometers, with the camper recording the most steps at the end of each day winning a prize.
When the kids aren't breaking a sweat, they're getting tips on nutrition, taking cooking classes and going on grocery shopping trips. There are weekly meetings between parents and a psychologist.
"It is so much fun because you get to learn how to eat right, how to be more supportive, try things we never did and put our best foot forward," said Darianna, 10, who has attended the camp in each of the past two summers.
Ursala Morgan's daughter, Ja-Mesha Knox, 10, also is a two-year veteran of Camp FUN.
"She's helping me big time, helping us in the family," said Morgan, a Bay Point resident. "I didn't understand how to read the back of the food (container). I just would buy it. Now she's like, 'Momma, you've got to have 3 grams of fiber; less than 150 calories.' So I love it. I come to my parenting class every Tuesday. I come back, and I share it with my family as well as my church members."
Mayra Garcia's son, Julian, 12, was "slightly overweight" and in the Healthy Hearts program for childhood obesity when they first met Jasik two years ago.
"She was asking me what kind of activities he does," said Garcia, who lives in Concord. "I told her he was taking wrestling at the Community Youth Center. She had never heard about the place. I was surprised when I heard that they teamed up, Healthy Hearts and CYC. It was pretty exciting."
Julian has participated in all three camps to date.
"I see a lot of change in him as far as looking at food as nutrition rather than just consumption," his mother said. "Something you want versus what you need. He likes egg whites now, and he likes tofu. All this stuff that with me, he wouldn't eat it. But with Camp FUN he does."
Jasik describes the program as a mutually beneficial partnership. UCSF provides the oversight and the medical expertise, and CYC provides the facilities.
"It's a good match for us," she said.
And for parents.
"They have six full hours of activities," Ledezma said. "The kids come home tired. It's excellent."
Contact Gary Peterson at 925-952-5053. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/garyscribe.