Children as young as eight are being targeted by WW (formerly Weight Watchers) with a new weight-loss app, which experts have warned could lead to disordered eating.
This week, the company released the new weight-loss and nutrition app, called Kurbo by WW, “a scientifically-proven behaviour change program designed to help kids and teens ages 8-17 reach a healthier weight”, derived from Stanford University’s Paediatric Weight Control Program. It costs between $18 to $25 a week, depending on the plan chosen.
The app requires children to list everything they eat, as well as getting them to enter their age, weight, height and ‘health goals’. It uses a ‘traffic light system’ to help kids keep track of ‘good’ foods (green), ‘moderation’ foods (yellow) and ‘bad’ foods (red).
Unsurprisingly, the announcement has sparked online furore.
Jameela Jamil, actor and founder of body positive Instagram account I Weigh, tweeted: “Oh f**k no… are we kidding? Breeding obsession with weight and calories and food at the age of… 8? I was 11 when my obsession started, due to being put on a diet for being the heaviest girl in my class. I became afraid of food. It ruined my teens and twenties.”
Others tweeted similar sentiments, sharing their own experiences with WW, and calling out the app for making weight loss “easier and trendier” for young people.
Experts have also voiced their concerns, warning the app could encourage disordered eating. Jessica Campbell, a medical student and nutritionist in New Zealand, told Now To Love she was horrified by the app’s introduction, adding it “absolutely, undoubtedly encourages eating disorders.”
She warned the app would create an “intense preoccupation with food, size, shape and weight” which could lead to disordered eating and pathological eating patterns.
Jenna Hollenstein, a “non-diet dietitian” in the US, told Refinery29 teaching kids to see foods as good or bad “distorts their natural ability to self-regulate”. “When you make some foods yellow light or red light, now they’re something that needs to be avoided. And we all want what we’re not supposed to have,” she warned. Likewise, they might not associate green-light foods with feeling good, she said.
At this stage, the program is only available in the US, with Kurbo co-founder Joanna Strober justifying that childhood obesity is “one of the most serious public health challenges that needs to be addressed at scale”.
Strober also told Refinery29 that Kurbo will alert families to signs of developing eating disorders, such as rapid weight loss. She added that unlike some products marketed to kids, she was confident this was “safe and effective”.