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Childhood Obesity

Elizabeth Fedorchalk and Freddy Fahl were tired of being fat. Both 16-year-olds had been trying to lose weight since elementary school, but diets never made a difference. At 5-ft. 5-in., 291-lb. and 6-ft. 1-in. 345-lb. respectively, the teenagers were undeniably obese and at risk for hypertension, heart disease, sleep apnea, and Type 2 diabetes. Freddy had gained 40 lb. a year the last three years. By any measure, they both were in poor health. And each year, it was only getting worse. But, Freddy and Elizabeth are hardly alone, simply look around.

In the past 30 years, obesity rates among U.S. children have more than tripled. Our national dialogue focuses on obesity prevention, but what do we do for kids who have already gained the weight? Freddy and Elizabeth chose to attend Wellspring Academy, a residential weight-loss facility in Reedley, California, to make a change. For these two teenagers and their families, Wellspring offered a commodity often in short supply: hope. But turning that hope into a long-term remedy for their obesity has not been easy.

This is an intimate photographic exploration of Elizabeth and Freddy’s transformation. It begins with abysmal diets, eating meals on the couch while watching T.V., and low self-esteem. With time and much effort, their journey leads them to make conscious decisions about food, create new habits, regularly exercise and a redefine their sense of self--changes inside and out. At Wellspring for nearly six months, they lost 72 and 82 lb., respectively, but that is just the beginning. Today, at home and school, the transformation continues, among family and friends. Nobody is destined to be fat forever, says Elizabeth. "Even if you do mess up, even if you do fall, what matters is you get back up again. You can always start anew at the next meal."

This work was created on assignment for Time Magazine.

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