A new Weight Watchers app is specifically targeting kids. The app, called Kurbo, is irresponsible. Instead of helping children and teenagers get healthy, it will put them at risk for other challenges like eating disorders.
Obesity, especially childhood obesity, is a major issue in the United States. According to the CDC, 18.5 percent of children, or about 60 million, aged 2 to 19 were overweight or obese in 2016. World Health Organization statistics show about 18 percent of all children aged 5 to 19 were overweight that year.
Kurbo is meant to do more than help kids lose weight. “To help kids and teens reach a healthier weight,” Weight Watchers will guide users through mindfulness and physical activities. Virtual coaching is also available with a subscription. The main use of the app, however, is the traffic light system, meant to get kids making healthier food decisions.
The traffic light system places food into three groups: green, yellow and red. “Green” foods, like fruits and vegetables, are the healthiest and what the app tries to get children to eat more of. Kids will learn to be mindful of “yellow” foods, such as dairy products, and work on phasing out “red” foods.
While this method may be backed by considerable evidence, it will do more harm than good. It will create life-long food habits that could lead to greater challenges. The traffic light method does help kids be more aware of what they are eating, but does not educate them enough about how and why certain foods are dangerous.
Kurbo Will Lead to an Unhealthy View of Food
Labeling foods as either good or bad, without clear explanation or reasoning, is dangerous. It does little to teach kids why something like grilled chicken and mashed potatoes is better for them than a McDonalds happy meal.
Stronger education in school or the doctor’s office about the additives in processed food, particularly fast food, is more beneficial than simply “banning” it. Not explaining how added sugars affect them or how their body uses carbohydrates to properly function will set kids up for failure.
With the main focus on food, the app will instill unhealthy views about food and weight challenges. It is often not just about poor food choices or over consumption. An unhealthy lifestyle, including physical and mental health, can be detrimental to a person’s weight.
Balance is important in life. Eating a strong mix of fruit, vegetables, dairy, and meat, while still allowing treats, is altogether healthier for children. Banning something often makes it more enticing to children and teenagers. Better eating habits is not the sole solution, however. Daily physical activity should also be added, whether it is recess or athletics.
The problem with this app is that it places the burden on kids. Adolescence is difficult. While weight should not be something kids have to worry about, the sad fact is that they do. A parent may send the wrong signal to their child by having them use the app. Kurbo has the potential to put children at greater risk of developing deadly eating disorders.
Eating Disorder Risks
Labeling certain or all food as “the enemy” is dangerous. Many nutritionists have come out against the app because of the risk it poses in increasing eating disorders among adolescents.
American society has made great strides in ending our fixation with thinness. Weight inclusive advertising and production is rising. While we should neither glamorize nor normalize obesity, representation is always best.
Forty percent of overweight girls and 37 percent of overweight boys were bullied about their weight by peers or family in 2016. Weight shaming increases the risk for developing anorexia, bulimia or other eating disorders. Eating disorders are the second deadliest mental illness. Only opioid addictions kill more.
Dieting can also increase the likelihood of an eating disorder developing. Parents may think they are helping their children by leading them to Kurbo. However, pressuring a kid to diet can quickly backfire. It may signal that their family thinks they are fat and they may try drastic, dangerous methods to “fix” themselves.
Kurbo is first and foremost a dieting app. It is less about adapting a healthy lifestyle and more about making kids fear food. Allowing an app like this to exist will place kids at greater risk for serious health problems.
Kids should not be killing themselves to lose weight, whether through diet pills or bingeing and purging. Dieting is rarely a success, as over 95 percent of those who lose weight gain it back five years later. Kids who use Kurbo could easily get hooked on the deadly cycle of dieting. It will follow them for the rest of their life.
Do Not Monetize the Health of Children
At the end of the day, the worst part of Kurbo is that it monetizes a serious epidemic. Although the basic app is free, subscriptions and ads will bring in revenue for Weight Watchers.
A child’s health should only be a conversation between parents and pediatricians. They should be the ones teaching adolescents about balance and choosing a variety of foods over strictly healthy or unhealthy options.
Schools should also be involved in the solution. I am a firm believer that greater education will be part of the solution for many serious issues in our nation. This includes both the childhood obesity epidemic and adult obesity.
Lifestyle changes should begin at home as a family. Kids often learn more from example than words. If they see their older siblings playing outside, they will want to join in. They understand that dessert is a treat and vegetables are more healthy. They do not need an app to tell them that.
It is irresponsible to place the burden of losing weight solely on adolescents. It can send the wrong message and lead to eating disorders. Kurbo should be shut down before it has the chance to hurt our youth.