Is Weight Watchers Promoting Eating Disorders for Children?

Say Hello (and please say goodbye) to Kurbo, the newest diet phone app by Weight Watchers (WW) for children ages 8-17. WW has been one of the most popular weight loss programs for people of all ages. The new Kurbo program, directly targeting children, has caused quite a disruption in the eating disorder community. Child obesity rates are at an all-time high, with 20% of children being obese, thus, creating a larger target market for weight loss programs. However, children and adolescents who start dieting have an increased risk of developing disordered eating, body image issues, and/or eating disorders. In a large study of 14– and 15-year-olds, dieting was the most important predictor of developing an eating disorder. Those who dieted moderately were 5x more likely to develop an eating disorder, and those who practiced extreme restriction were 18x more likely to develop an eating disorder than those who did not diet. (Golden, N. H., Schneider)  After exploring Kurbo, we learned that their program includes dietary restrictions with the hope of children choosing “healthier options” resulting in weight loss. The program categorizes food into three groups including Red light foods (to be eaten rarely), Yellow light foods (to be eaten a couple of times a week), and Green-light foods (eaten every day). See examples below.

Red-light foods: bread, avocado, chia seeds, cashews, and peanut butter.

Yellow-light foods: black beans, unsweetened almond milk, and baked chicken. 

Green-light foods: fruits, vegetables, and skim milk 

This concept seems like it could be educational in teaching kids to eat food in moderation; however, it categorizes foods in an exact manner that individuals with eating disorders categorize food such as “good” and “bad” or “healthy” and “unhealthy” resulting in shame and feelings of failure when children and adolescents do consume these foods. A child’s diet should be rich in fruits, vegetables, and dairy! We do not disagree there; however, we do believe that children, adolescents, and all individuals are allowed to eat all foods without feeling guilty, ashamed, or that these foods will result in significant weight gain. When you look at these foods, they are all essential for energy, growth, and satiety (the ability to feel satisfied and full). The categorization of food, counting points, counting calories, etc., does not actually result in a “healthier lifestyle”. If you are concerned with your child’s weight or weight gain it is important to seek professional help from accredited sources such as a Registered Dietitian or Physician. The best way to help your child live a healthier, happier life is by modeling your relationship to food, exercise, and body image appropriately. Tips on how to help your child live a healthy lifestyle that focuses on the importance of body, mind, and spirit:

  1. Talk and listen to your child about food and body image.
    • Listen and validate their thoughts and feelings
  2. Focus on health, not weight, as weight does not determine health status,
    • There is no reason to tell your child you are concerned about their weight. Talk with a pediatrician or dietitian if you are worried! 
  3. Model a healthy relationship with food by incorporating all foods in moderation
  4. Make exercise fun!
    • Encourage 30 minutes of exercise each day as it makes us feel good and can be a time to connect to one another
  5. Encourage your child to cook with you.
    • Teach them how to cook so they can feed themselves appropriately when they are older.
    • Also, this gives them the opportunity to decide their true likes and dislikes!
  6. Introduce new foods weekly, starting at a young age, to encourage a variety of foods in your child’s diet.
  7. Avoid comments about their weight or your own weight – negative comments about weight can have significantly detrimental effects on body image

We can decrease the rate of childhood obesity by modeling healthy eating behaviors and exercise! It is not recommended for children to lose weight; rather it is encouraged to slow the trajectory of weight gain or emphasize weight maintenance as weight loss in childhood can interfere with growth and body image. Remember, during childhood years and early adolescence, many children do gain weight! This is normal as their bodies are preparing to undergo puberty and develop into adulthood. If you take away one message from this blog, it is to model a healthy relationship with food, exercise, and body image! Health or happiness is not determined by a number on a scale.

Additional information:

Citing: Golden, N. H., Schneider, M., & Wood, C. (2016). Preventing Obesity and Eating Disorders in Adolescents. Pediatrics, 138(3). doi:10.1542/peds.2016-1649