Wellspring Academies

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Current status Closed
Checked January 2015
Open.gif Opened 2004
Close.gif Closed 2014

Wellspring Academies formerly known as Academy of the Sierras (or AOS for short) is a therapeutic year-round boarding school, and the world's first behavior modification facility exclusively for overweight and obese teenagers. It was founded by Ryan Craig, who also served as its first Executive Director.

The program calls itself for "the best short-term results ever reported for a weight loss program" [1]

As of February 2007, AOS has two facilities.

  • The California campus is locate on 42675 Road 44, Reedley, California, about 30 minutes southeast of Fresno, and has 90 students ages 13-18 [2].
  • A second campus, located on Lambs Creek Road, Brevard, North Carolina and known as Academy of the Sierras North Carolina (or AOSNC), has roughly 20 students ages 11-16 [3].
  • A third facility will open someplace in the state of New York (Since mid 2008 there has been no new information about a date for the opening).
  • A forth facility will open in UK in three years [4]

The academies are operated by Healthy Living Academies, a division of Aspen Education Group. It is closely affiliated with Wellspring Camps.

The old name reference to "the Sierras" has been criticized, as most Westerners refer to the Sierra Nevada mountain range area as "the Sierra", singular. AOS maintains that "Sierras", plural, is appropriate because the Spanish translation of Sierra is "saw", literally translating into Academy of the Saws.

All academies closed early 2014. The cause was stated to be the economy [5]. The wellspring camps continue to be held.

Program structure

The program operates with a level system: Newcomers start as novice. The names for the following levels are boulder, ascender and vallayer. If a youth break the rules which could mean expulsion, they are often offered a deal which result in being dropped to the lowest level. One of the rules are forbiding normal socializing with peers [6].

Diet controversy

The diet has been criticized [7], but such a very-low-fat diet is supported by rather old investigations by the World Health Organization [8] and the American Diabetes Association [9]. A number of articles in Washington post disclosed that the diet, which only contains one quater of the fat recommended by Weight Watchers could risk causing an increased risk of gallbladder problems [10].

Questionable results

A number of experts - among them Anjali Jain, a pediatrician at Children's National Medical Center question the expense and necessity of boarding school. They point out that there is no longterm study of the results gained after graduation [11].

One of the not so positive case is the one of Jahcobie Cosom, who ended up weighing 562 pounds [12].


If the teenagers do not work the program or violate simple rules like having a cell phone in the facility, they can be transported to a wilderness environment called Sierra Adventure Program (SAP), which is seen as the facility's equivalent of solitary confinement. At the California facility it is located on an island in the Kings River [13].

If a teenager experiences homesickness, the parents are given some trick to manipulate the child to stay in the program. [14]

In the news

Unlike the programs in the other categories, Treatment centres in the Weight loss Division do not allow client to arrive by the use of a Teen escort company. At least they state so on their homepage [15]. Instead the parents ask for a series of phonecalls from staff, which should persuade the student to attend the programs. However, a participant on a Dr. Phil show was sent there by the use of a Teen escort company [16].

External Links

Info pages

Survivor groups

Message boards


  1. "Fixing Generation XXL", by Kate Fillion, Macleans, 2006-07-19
  2. California facility on Google maps
  3. The area around the North Carolina campus
  4. Boarding school for obese children, The Standard, July 28 2008
  5. Wellspring Academy to close, Yahoo News
    Wellspring Academy to close, ABC 30 news
  6. WEIGHT-LOSS CAMP, Transformed teen has a new challenge — high school, By SARAH VIREN, Houston Chronicle
  7. Extreme Low-Fat Farm Abusing Obese Kids, Jimmi Moore
  8. Alice H. Lichtenstein, DSc; Linda Van Horn, PhD, RD; ; for the Nutrition Committee,Very Low Fat Diets, American Heart Association, Inc. 1998
  9. Dietary fat and diabetes, Diabetes Care 2002
  10. One Day at a Time, Scenes From a Recent Visit to Wellspring Academy of the Carolinas, By Sandra G. Boodman, The Washington Post, May 20 2008
  11. 'Fat School' - In the Hills of North Carolina, a Controversial Experiment in Weight Loss, By Sandra G. Boodman, Washington Post Staff Writer May 20 2008
  12. When 'Fat School' Failed Him, , By Sandra G. Boodman, Washington Post Staff Writer May 20 2008
  13. Sacramento Bee Special Report, See chapther 3
  14. What happens if, after a month or two, my child decides she doesn’t want to continue, and wants to come home?, program homepage
  15. What if my child isn’t interested in attending AOS?, Program homepage FAQ
  16. The Dr. Phil House: Teen Intervention, Part 3