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School for overweight, obese teenage girls to open in Scottsdale

PHOENIX — A school opening in Scottsdale later this year has a program designed for teenage girls battling weight issues.

The Gem Academy — which stands for gratitude, empathy and mission — is a program designed as a private boarding school for overweight and obese adolescent girls. To be admitted, girls must be between 13 and 18 years old. They must also be 30 pounds or more over their healthy weight range.

“The idea is that it’s a health intervention for adolescent girls who are struggling with obesity,” said Jim Hershey, founder and executive director of Gem Academy.

He noted teenage girls who are overweight run a high risk of staying overweight once they reach adulthood, “so this is an intervention point for them to be able to change the trajectory of their life and their health.”

The Gem Academy, which incurs a cost, will allow girls to live on campus for at least six months. While there, they’ll work with a number of specialists, including dietitians, nutritionists, fitness specialists and therapists.

Hershey said the specialists will help the teens “get an idea of how to change behaviors in their lives.” They’ll also help them identify “the things that mean something to them that they can chase after.”

“What we found from working with these kids is that the ones that sustain their health the longest are the ones for whom their health maintenance becomes part of a larger mission,” Hershey said. “That’s our job – to help them find what that may be.”

He said he got the idea for the Gem Academy from working in a similar treatment program for overweight and obese teenage girls in California.

Enrollment for the Gem Academy will begin in the next few weeks, with classes starting sometime in July or August.

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