'Weight Watchers' Launched a New App for Kids But Parents Fear It Could Be Harmful

Kids playing on cell phone
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After a company rebrand, WW (formally known as Weight Watchers) is back with a brand-new weight loss app geared toward kids. The weight loss company announced on Tuesday that it will soon be releasing Kurbo by WW, a mobile app and coaching program designed to help kids ages 8 to 17 manage their weight. Although childhood obesity rates have risen rapidly in recent decades, not everyone is cheering for the new program. In fact, there was some serious backlash against the app online, with many worrying that Kurbo by WW could cause kids to develop a negative body image or, even worse, disordered eating.

  • Kurbo by WW touts itself as "a scientifically-proven behavior change program" made for kids and teens.

    Kurbo for WW
    Kurbo for WW

    A press release issued by WW stated that the free app, which is available now for download, was designed based on the Stanford University's Pediatric Weight Control Program for kids and teens, and will offer "virtual coaching."

    If the name "Kurbo" sounds familiar, that's because it's not exactly new. The app was created by a mom named Joanna Strober, who was looking for a way to help manage her son's weight, and WW acquired it in August 2018. 

    "The program builds on Kurbo's evidence-based mobile platform to help children and teenagers, with support from their families, make lifestyle changes while receiving guidance around sustainable healthy eating, physical activity and mindfulness habits," the WW statement reads.

    "To change the health trajectory of the world, we have a tremendous opportunity, but also a responsibility, to help kids, teens and families," WW President and CEO Mindy Grossman noted in the statement. "With Kurbo's proven platform, we can be a trusted and powerful partner for families, as part of our mission to inspire healthy habits for real life, for everyone."

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  • The program will use a red light, yellow light, and green light system to help kids decide what foods to eat.

    Kurbo by WW
    Kurbo by WW

    The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently reported that as of 2019, 18.5 percent of children ages 2 to 19 qualify as obese. The government agency also found that, "Obesity prevalence was 13.9 percent among 2- to 5-year-olds, 18.4 percent among 6- to 11-year-olds, and 20.6 percent among 12- to 19-year-olds." 

    It's precisely those statistics that WW claims it wants to reverse.

    To do so, the app uses an easy-to-follow "Traffic Light System," which will help guide kids toward healthy food choices by putting them into three different groups. 

    "Kids and teens are encouraged to eat more of the healthy 'green light' foods (such as fruits and veggies), be mindful of portions of 'yellow light' foods (such as lean protein, whole grains and dairy) and gradually reduce but still include consumption of 'red light' foods (such as sugary drinks and treats)," the WW statement explains.

    The app will also offer a subscription-based coaching program, where kids can meet one-on-one with virtual coaches who will help them through their weight loss journey.

    Yahoo Lifestyle! reports that the app will also include features such as breathing exercises, a Snapchat inspired interface, and multiday streaks to encourage regular activity. 

  • Although finding a method to teach kids about healthy eating is important, critics fear the app could have a downside.

    On Twitter, many people pointed out that the line between reinforcing healthy habits and inciting negative body image and disordered eating in kids is paper thin.

    "This new app #kurbo by WW is disgusting!" wrote Twitter user @HopeVirgo. "And it is out right dangerous! Eating disorders are serious mental illnesses and teaching young people these messages is WRONG!"

    "Hey @ww_us - to what extent does your super Stanford research take into account the long term health concerns by promoting weight loss behaviors in adolescents and teens? #kurbo" added another Twitter user @amanda_sab

    "This is NOT OK!!" user @JessieRook commented. "What in the world would kids need to lose weight when they are growing & learning to have a healthy relationship with food & body!"

  • They certainly do have a point. After all, even the American Academy of Pediatrics has issued warnings to parents about focusing on weight.

    In 2016, the academy released a study on obesity in adolescents and called upon parents and doctors to focus on promoting healthy lifestyle changes rather than a child's weight, for fear that it could have negative ramifications. And just this year, a different study found that almost half of the participants in their research (ages 18 to 25) who used weight-loss apps reported feeling guilt, social isolation, fear of failure, and a sense of being controlled by the app. Although those subjects were older than the intended audience for Kurbo by WW, it's easy to see the connection many critics are making, considering how impressionable young kids and teens can be. 

    In the end, it will be up to parents to decide if the app is worth trying for their child, but it's important to remember that how your child feels about food is just as important as what that child eats.

body image weight loss