WW Just Launched a Weight-Loss App for Kids—Here's Why That's Not OK
As a parent and registered dietitian, I'm pretty pissed.
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This seems like a twilight-zone announcement. WW, formerly Weight Watchers (a company that recently rebranded itself to take weight out of its name), just launched Kurbo, a program "to help kids and teens reach a healthier weight," according to their press release.
Kurbo, which includes an app and virtual coaching, is for kids as young as 8 years old (which is really, really young). The app is free but the coaching comes with a price tag of $12.25-$17.25 per week depending on how many months you prepay. Kurbo uses a traffic light system, based on research from Stanford University, to rank foods from green to red. Green light foods you can eat anytime, yellow foods you should watch your portions of and red foods should make you "stop and think."
I downloaded the app to see what it was really like. After entering my height and weight, I had to specify a goal. I picked weight loss, which is not a goal of mine, but I figured might be for many users. It asked me to track my meal, so I put in breakfast. Bread, peanut butter and banana which is a fairly standard breakfast for me. Bread was "red", peanut butter was "red" and banana was "green." Peanut butter is a "red" food? Peanut butter? Full of healthy fats and protein and fiber-all nutrients which kids should have in their diet. If all I had eaten was the banana, I would be hungry and unsatisfied. Even my bread, delivers nutrition (by the way, whole grain bread was a "yellow" food, but wasn't as easy to find to input). Apparently, I'm allowed 30 "red" foods a week. Looks like peanut butter and bread carry the same label as brownies and ice cream-which is confusing to me and likely for lots of kids.
I can understand parents wanting to help their kids eat healthier, but those conversations shouldn't center around weight loss. The American Academy of Pediatrics agrees, and set forth guidelines to promote positive body image and not talk to kids about weight. Kids who diet are at a much higher risk for developing eating disorders. There's a way to encourage eating more vegetables without body shaming. Eating disorders and disordered eating habits are on the rise and can cause years of lasting harm and even death. I'm sure some kids may be able to use the program with their parents and not develop disordered eating habits. But I also feel confident that some will.
I'm a big believer in intuitive eating and not putting people, especially children, on diets. People, including kids, come in all shapes and sizes. This app could easily be reworked to just focus on nutrition and activity-not weight loss. I would never talk to a second grader about their weight, why is WW? Please, just let our kids eat, without labels and tracking.
Read more: A Month of Healthy Dinner Ideas for Kids