JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Sharon Davis of Madison can’t bear the thought of her daughter having to grow up without her because she didn’t make her health a priority.

“I lost my mom when I was 16, and she’s two years from that now and I don’t want her to go through what I went through,” Davis said.

In June, Davis started exercise classes at Fitness Clinic in Jackson. When the center announced plans for its Teen Weight Loss Camp, she decided her daughter, Shari Perkins, 14, should join.

“I convinced my daughter to do this. If Mama can do it, she can do it as well,” Davis said.

About 25 girls ages 12-16 are taking part in the month long camp where they are learning not only to shed a few pounds but how to lead a new, healthy lifestyle.

They must keep daily food journals, recording breakfast, snack, lunch, snack and dinner meals. Using the website – myfitnesspal.com – allows them to monitor calorie intake.

Monday through Thursday they complete a 45-minute workout of march aerobics patterned after the marching band style of historically black colleges and universities.

“Most of these kids are out of shape more than adults,” said Barbara Broadwater, executive director of the clinic. “They don’t have the stamina.”

The workouts can become intense, but instructor Matthew Haynes tries to keep them fun.

“If I keep your mind off the pain and the unpleasantness of working out, then you will tend to do it longer,” said Haynes. “This is your chance to see how it would be on the field because an HBCU marching band is like nothing else.”

Haynes also teaches march aerobics to adults at the center. He applauds parents who set the right examples for kids.

“If you don’t do right, they won’t do right,” he said.

Davis is living out that sentiment. She has lost 22 pounds since taking the classes and is eating foods she never considered before. Now her family opts for salads instead of fries and makes turkey burgers at home instead of going out.

“This has been a blessing to me. It has been one of the best things that ever happened to me in regards to health,” said Davis, who admits her previous bad habits were beginning to rub off on Shari.

The teen performed ballet for seven years, played soccer for three and participated in basketball two summers ago. But her eighth-grade year centered on academics.

“I never got a chance to do my exercises like I was supposed to,” said Shari, who has set a goal of losing 48 pounds with what she learns during the camp. “I want to get healthy. I don’t want to be in that category of being pre-diabetic.”

She’s already learning that eating some foods is not worth the hassle.

“If I have to search for the burgers (on the website) and find the calories, I’m just not going to eat it,” Shari said. “I haven’t drank soda in four days.“ She chooses flavored water instead.

Jaylin Williams, 11, of Clinton, is changing her approach to healthy living as well.

“I’ve learned how much water to drink. We’re supposed to eat five times a day and by 8 o’clock you shouldn’t be hungry,” said Jaylin.

Before starting the camp, she skipped breakfast and lunch and just had dinner. The rising seventh-grader wants to lose 32 pounds.

Jaylin’s grandmother, Donna Ferrell, of Clinton, has worked out at the center for two years.

She knew exercise would keep her mobile after arthritis in her spine was detected. Another plus, her dosage of high blood pressure medication has been reduced, and she’s shed 47 pounds.

“I don’t want her to deal with childhood obesity, diabetes. I just want to get her healthy and fit,” Ferrell said of her granddaughter.

The camp costs $25 for the month. The girls get T-shirts, a DVD of the march aerobics routines so they can practice at home, and a water bottle.
Ferrell pays $299 for the 12-week adult classes.

“Some people think it’s expensive, but it’s not that expensive, because you're going to waste it on something else anyway,” Ferrell said.

She stays motivated by staying in the beginner's class where newcomers tend to be more excited. But she has witnessed “happy tears” from grueling workouts led by Haynes.

Haynes hasn’t seen any tears from the girls in the camp. He recently introduced crunches and other floor exercises.

“Oh, it burns,” some girls called out as the session wrapped up.

They will earn prizes for reaching milestones during camp.

If enough boys had signed up, organizers say a second class catering to them would have been offered.

Despite Mississippi being ranked the fattest state for the fifth consecutive year, parents and clinic staff see the camp as a way to turn the tide.

Haynes' main advice to all ages is to work out for the right reasons.

“Unfortunately, our society is a visual society. I always tell the kids and adults don’t do it for anybody else, do it for yourself,” Haynes said. The only exception is when adults opt to get healthy for their kids.