Hiya Sweet Friends:
Last week the world was introduced to a new Weight Watchers App – Kurbo by WW.
In case you haven’t heard of it already, it’s a weight loss app for children… like, seriously, children. Kurbo is intended for kids as young as 8 years old.
While WW (Weight Watchers) claims that the app is intended to help families work together to create a healthier lifestyle, at it’s core the program seems typical to their brand… focused on dieting and weight loss. But geared towards impressionable and vulnerable kids. And nutritionists are very concerned.
It’s awesome to teach children healthy habits and encourage them to create a balanced lifestyle. But is this weight watchers app truly the answer?
In short, no… and the reasons why are incredibly important. So let’s talk about it!
What Is The Kurbo Weight Watchers App?
In short, Kurbo is a weight loss app for kids. While they claim that the main purpose of this is all about teaching kids to eat healthier and move more, I think we need to call a spade a spade. This is an app aimed at teaching children how to diet. And we shouldn’t be here for it.
Let’s take a deeper look…
When a kid logs into the Kurbo Weight Watchers app they’re asked to provide their name, height, weight and gender.
Then they need to choose a goal.
Options include (and it hurts me physically to say some of these):
- Make parents happy (seriously)
- Feel better in my clothes
- Have more energy
- Boost confidence
- Get stronger and fitter
- Eat healthier
- Lose weight
Then the child is presented with their BMI. And taught about the program, which defines foods by a traffic light system. (source)
You know, easy dieting terms for kids. Because the world needed that.
- Green means good. You can eat these foods any time that you want.
- Yellow means ok, you just need to watch your portions.
- Red means bad foods. You should, and I quote, “think how to budget them in.” (source)
Did I mention that avocados are a yellow light food? Have you ever worried about watching your avocado portions? Of course not! It’s avo-freaking-cados. That’s absolutely bonkers. (source)
Oh and 92% dark chocolate is a red food, which means you need to budget it in. And that’s also mind blowing to me because dark chocolate has so much to offer your health!
Linda Tucker, a food and body image coach, thinks this system is problematic.
“They’re still saying these foods are better than these foods without any context. It’s not realistic, and it’s not a healthy way to teach anyone about food, especially children.”
She also added this important note:
“If Kurbo wants to create healthy body image and healthy habits for teens, I’m all for that. The problem is when you introduce the idea of weight loss, everything becomes poison.” (source)
Kurbo “Coaches” Help The Children Reach Their Goals
For an additional fee, the kids are also provided with a coach who helps them reach their goals and follow the program. And the app keeps them “on track” with progress charts.
Oh, and the coaches typically do not have backgrounds in nutrition or psychology. One look at the coach page and you’ll see individuals with backgrounds in communication, business administration. tourism management and more. But they are “Kurbo trained.” (source)
Weight Watchers Chief Scientific Officer Gary Foster told CNBC that the reason for this is to ensure accessibility:
“If we want to live our purpose of making wellness accessible to all and doing it outside an academic medical center, we’re not going to be able to hire pediatricians, dietitians, exercise physiologists and psychologists. What we do well is take science and scale it, measure the impact to make sure we’re living up to our purpose.” (source)
But children deserve to have individuals with the right education, training and experience on their side when it comes to their mental and physical well-being. Don’t you agree?
The cherry on top of this already horrible cake is just plain horrifying…
On the website you will find before and after “inspirational” weight loss pictures of kids. As young as eight years old.
Along with how much weight they lost or how much their BMI changed and a paragraph about their “success.”
One such page about an 8 year old states the following (from her mom):
“Watching Vanessa say no to unhealthy things she would have never said no to before has surprised me. I’m amazed at how strong-willed and motivated she is. When she sets a goal she doesn’t break it.” (source)
Did you shudder? Because I shuddered.
The Problem With A Weight Watchers App For Kids
1. Puberty Naturally Causes Weight Gain
Kurbo is intended for kids as young as 8, all the way to 17. And, at it’s core, the focus seems to be very similar to Weight Watchers’ general ideals – weight loss.
But something very important happens to little ones around that age… puberty.
Remember that awkward time full of pimples, hormones and lots of changes? Yea, well those changes include something else – weight gain!
Most of us hit puberty between the ages of 8 to 16 years old. Pretty close to Kurbo by WW’s age range, wouldn’t you say?
On average, we all gain approximately 40 to 60lbs during puberty.
In fact, we can often have “weight spurts” before we even experience growth spurts.
According to Gürze Eating Disorders Resource Catalogue:
“It is important to recognize that weight gain often happens before height. This can be referred to as a ‘weight spurt’ just as people label ‘growth spurt’ for increases in height.”
Now, imagine you’re back in your awkward puberty years. And pretend that during this incredibly vulnerable time you’ve been taught to label foods as “good” or “bad” (sorry, green or red), track what you eat and set weight loss goals. How devastated would you feel if you suddenly gained 50lbs?
Puberty is completely natural and plays a roll in our health, growth and development. It’s a strange and difficult time. And the last thing any child should be focused on or worried about is what the scale has to say.
Andrea Paul, RDN and Licensed Dietitian thinks it’s so important we know this:
“It’s normal for kids to have periods of time where they gain weight more quickly, particularly in the years before they hit puberty, which is right around the age range the app is geared towards. As a registered dietitian who practices through a weight-inclusive lens, it’s disturbing to me that this program is insinuating that there is only one type of ‘healthy’ or ‘normal’ body, which is simply false.” (source)
2. This System May Lead To Disordered Eating
Children should never be looked at as “before” photos in a weight loss journey. Nor should they be made to feel that their bodies are wrong. Fostering this focus on food and weight tracking is dangerous. And could lend a hand in the development of disordered eating.
Many nutritionists are worried that this Weight Watchers App for kids can create an unhealthy relationship with food. And it’s aimed at an impressionable and vulnerable age group.
Keri Glassman, a registered dietitian from NYC, is horrified that there are before and after weight loss photos of kids as young as 8:
“Looking at before and after pictures of kids who have lost weight is absolutely something that could lead to children to feel horrible about themselves and it really is a form of body shaming” (source)
Dietitian Anna Sweeney, owner of Whole Life Nutrition Counseling, feels Kurbo will not lead to a healthy relationship with food:
“I really do appreciate the idea that parents are signing up their children in ways that are largely well-intended, but what we know is that preoccupation with food and righteousness around food does not create healthy relationships with food. It does not leave people feeling good or competent in eating.” (source)
Shaleen Jones, executive director of Eating Disorders Nova Scotia stated that studies show that kids who focus on restricting and tracking what they eat can become obsessed and many develop eating disorders.
“They (Weight Watchers) are not here to create healthier eaters, they’re here to create dieters. They reference a study but don’t provide their sources, and having worked in the eating disorders field for 20 years, the evidence is really clear.” (source)
And Sami Main, a life coach with a focus on well-being and nutrition says:
“Promoting dieting behaviors in children can lead to those same children developing eating disorders, poor self-esteem, and many other mental and physical health issues. It’s dangerous to promote dieting behavior in children; an app like this can easily lead to kids fearing food and fearing weight gain for years to come.” (source)
Weight gain that I’d like to remind you once more is completely natural and unpreventable as they reach puberty.
Weight Watchers has stated that this app is meant to be a family affair, having the entire unit work together to create a healthier lifestyle. But losing weight to please our family isn’t healthy. And having your parent hand you this app could be hurtful and damaging.
Abby Langer, a dietitian in Toronto, shared that:
“Kids who are overweight know they’re overweight and already feel bad about it. Giving this app to a kid is like saying there’s something wrong with you.” (source)
There’s also an American Academy of Pediatrics’ 2016 report that links a focus on dieting and weight loss at a young age with the development of eating disorders. (source)
It breaks my heart that there’s an app out there for children that may very well do just that.
3. BMI Is Not A Real Measure Of Good Health
BMI is one of this Weight Watchers app’s main focus. The BMI of the child is calculated when they set up their profile. And changes in BMI are even listed on their “success stories” page. But there’s a problem with that. BMI is total BS!
Body Mass Index used to calculate body mass percentage based on weight and height. And is often used as a measure of health (including Kurbo by WW).
How do you get your BMI? Basically you divide your weight in kilograms by your height (in meters) squared. And that decides if you’re healthy or not. Except it doesn’t at all.
Because, scientifically, BMI is not an accurate measure of health at all!
Health outcomes do not typically match up with someone’s BMI. It’s completely unreliable. An athlete who sports a lot of muscle mass may score too high on the BMI scale and be considered “unhealthy” because of that number. Which is not at all true.
And I even scored perfectly on the BMI scale when I was losing weight due to a Graves Disease flare up (and most would look at my smaller size and think “healthy”) but I wasn’t well at all.
BMI is an oversimplification of an incredibly complex thing. Health doesn’t fit neatly in a little package. You can’t decide if someone’s well just by looking at their weight and dividing it by their height squared. You can’t even look at someone and know everything about their well-being.
We all have body differences, including muscle mass, bone density and fat distribution. And body size does not necessarily indicate health.
For example, sumo wrestlers typically have low rates heart disease and diabetes and tend to be quite healthy regardless of their larger size and high BMI.
The BMI wasn’t even invented to be used to decide an individual’s health.
Originally the mathematician who invented the BMI, Adolphe Quetelet, did so to help the government decide how to allocate health funds to the general public.
Instead of measuring one person’s health, the BMI scale was supposed to quickly measure the approximate health of a large population.
We shouldn’t use it to determine an adults health. And we definitely shouldn’t be using it to decide a child’s health either.
How Can We Teach Kids To Develop Healthy Habits?
Teaching our kids to track their food and focus on weight is not a healthy idea. Instead we should promote a healthy lifestyle by teaching them balance.
Some ideas to build a healthy lifestyle with your little ones include:
- Eating meals together
- Cooking together
- Making fruits and vegetables readily available
- Encouraging mindful eating (even with dessert)
- Limiting screen time
- Ensuring physical activity is fun and enjoyed as a family
All of these activities are super helpful and important. And they will do so much more goodness in the long run than teaching damaging habits like restriction and obsession. (source)
There is no such thing as the perfect diet or lifestyle. Nor is there a one size fits all way to live. And there is definitely not one type of healthy body or size.
We all deserve to learn mindfulness, balance and self-love. And I don’t see any way that the Weight Watchers App – Kurbo by WW will do that for children. It’s truly unfortunate and they deserve so much better.
Final Thoughts on Weight Watchers’ App For Kids
It’s important to teach children about healthy habits and creating a balance. Food can absolutely play a role in your well-being. But obsessing over food and weight also plays a roll, a big roll, in your well-being. And it’s a harmful one.
I’ll let Keri Glassman, a registered dietitian, really drives home why this Weight Watcher’s app is so disappointing:
“They could have created an app for children that promoted healthy eating and healthy lifestyle and good health education and information and help children boost confidence. But I feel like the way this app was built is so similar to Weight Watchers, and just geared completely towards weight loss, weight loss, weight loss.” (source)
And doing that to little kids is 100% not ok!
What are your thoughts on Kurbo by WW? Do you have any other advice to add on teaching children healthy habits and the importance of creating a good balance? Let me know in the comments below.
Health and love,
Thought of the day: We all deserve to find our personal healthy balance.
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