Students, faculty and pediatric residents serve as staff for Operation Fit, a series of one-week health camps held each summer at Loma Linda University Drayson Center.

The 10th annual Operation Fit, a series of one-week camps for kids, empowered children and families with new tools that will help them live more healthy lives. This summer, 30 kids participated in each of the five Operation Fit camps at Loma Linda University Health, which took place June 26 through the last week of July.

Nearly 1,000 children have attended the student-led camp since it was first held 10 years ago, said Marti Baum, MD, assistant professor of pediatrics at Loma Linda University’s School of Medicine.

Operation Fit participants learn to make healthy choices in areas including portion control, reading food labels, choosing food that is colorful on the plate and the importance of physical activity, Baum said.

“In healthcare, physicians often have 15 minutes with a patient,” she said. “I look forward to Operation Fit each year because it is possible to make a bigger impact that can lead to healthy lifestyle changes in children and families.”

Camp alumni, ages 9 to 15, and their parents will now reinforce and build on the new healthy habits learned at Operation Fit during a five-session nutrition series that will be held weekly at SAC Health System, Baum said.   

Fun at Operation Fit

Operation Fit camps are led and staffed by medical students, pediatric residents, and nutrition students from the School of Public Health, Baum said. Faculty and administrative leaders include Ernest Medina, DrPH, an assistant professor at the School of Public Health, and Camille Clarke, MD, assistant professor of preventive medicine at Loma Linda University’s School of Medicine.

Each summer, participants with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) attend the second week of camp, led by Cameron Neece, PhD, associate professor in the department of psychology at Loma Linda University’s School of Behavioral Health, with Catherine Sanner, a student in the clinical psychology PhD program in the School of Behavioral Health. Psychology students are also involved in week of Operation Fit for youth with IDD in order to provide behavior management for the children. Obesity is a growing and concerning problem among youth with IDD and this intervention is one of the first projects to address this public health issue. Neece and her team have collected data on the outcomes of this camp for youth with IDD, which has been presented at several national meetings.

Nutrition students prepare healthy snacks and lunches to fuel Operation Fit campers, while medical students lead them on scavenger hunts and in activities that teach healthy habits and active living, Baum said.

Parents learn about their own health Thursday evenings during parent education night as they participate in health screenings conducted by Loma Linda University students and community health workers, Baum said.

This year many of the participants were referred to Operation Fit by SAC Health System, while in the past referrals have been made by the San Bernardino School District, Baum said.

The Walter E. Macpherson Society provides funding for School of Medicine student participation, while supporters of Operation Fit include the Community Health Development Department, which is under the umbrella of the Loma Linda University Institute for Community Partnerships (ICP); Inland Empire Health Plan (IEHP); SAC Health System; Loma Linda University pediatric residency program and San Bernardino County Medical Society. Loma Linda University School of Behavioral Health has provided funding for the week of Operation Fit focused on children with IDD.