When Weight Watchers, now known as WW, relaunched itself as a wellness plan, it was met with optimistic skepticism. The WW app for kids, launched last week, however, has been met with downright outrage.
The brand has been synonymous with dieting for decades, but now that years of nutrition research has proven that diets don’t actually work, a pivot was welcome. But given the company’s new commitment to wellness, it seems like an odd move to introduce a WW app for kids. Little kids. Like starting-at-8-years-old little.
In case you missed it, the WW app is called Kurbo and it’s targeted to children aged eight to 18. The company maintains, it’s grounded in strategies for building healthy habits long term—something nutrition science does support. “Kurbo focuses on behavior change for healthier eating and more activity, not dieting or calorie-counting,” Gary Foster, Ph.D., chief scientific officer at WW, told Glamour.
I, along with much of the internet, still find it problematic. The app has been met with pretty unanimous rage—check the comments on their Instagram feed—coding foods as green (“great to eat anytime”), yellow (“watch your portions”), or red (“think about how to budget them in”). But a bigger question begs to be asked: In the era of body positivity, when diet is literally a four-letter world, what message does this send to kids?
Putting your kid on a diet could set them up for disordered eating: In a study of 14 and 15 year old girls, the National Eating Disorder Association found that “dieting was the most important predictor of developing an eating disorder.” Girls who moderately diet are 5 times as likely to develop an eating disorder—those who practice extreme restriction are 18 times (!) more likely. (Foster counters that studies show behavior-based weight management programs like Kurbo “do not cause eating disorders. They provide kids with tools to make balanced food choices and manage their weight in a healthy way.”)
Can we think about the indignity of a teenager at a sleepover having to enter every morsel of food she eats into an app on her phone? Shame and guilt actually have a counter effect on any attempt at weight loss, according to the American Association of Pediatrics.
I suffered from disordered eating and binging for most of my adult life. Now that I have my own children, I want to save them from the toxic relationship with food that’s caused me so much grief. When we put children’s eating habits under a microscope, we are taking away their agency over their own bodies. We are teaching them that they can’t possibly be left to their own devices to eat in a healthy way. And we are sending a loud and clear message: Your body is not good enough as it is. You need to be fixed.