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August 15, 2019

Weight Watchers launches controversial app to help kids lose weight

Kurbo is not a 'weight-loss app' per se, but for 'behavioral change,' company says

Children's Health Weight Loss
ww weight loss app kids teens stem.T4L/Unsplash

WW (formerly Weight Watchers) this week launched “Kurbo by WW,” a free mobile app with a behavioral program designed to help kids and teens ages 8 to 17 reach a healthier weight.

Naturally, such a thing has not been well-received by parents and nutrition experts, who argue that young kids need not worry about having their perfect, most healthy body yet.

WW stands strong behind its decision to help kids get healthier via the new app, which is based on Stanford University's pediatric weight control program. But, for the record, WW claims Kurbo was not designed to be a weight-loss app.

RELATED READ: Men gain more weight during freshman year than women, study finds

The app’s content, alongside virtual coaching, serves to help kids and teens make informed lifestyle changes to improve their choices around healthy eating, physical activity and mindfulness, the company says.

Users can track their food and activity in the app, while receiving feedback. The program uses the traffic light system to help kids categorize foods, and differentiate them based on nutritional value. The app also provides 15-minute personal training-like videos and offers weekly video chat or text conversations for guidance. Parents can receive recipes, shopping lists and health-promoting ideas for the whole family.

You can see where this app — as well-intentioned as it might be — starts to sounds a little concerning …

“You NEED to Shut. This. Down,” Whitney Fisch, a social worker, school counselor and mom, wrote on Facebook. “All bodies, especially growing + developing bodies, deserve respect + the ability to grow into whatever shape they’re meant to grow to be.” She said she was writing “with the fury of 1,000 suns.”

“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,"  registered dietitian nutritionist, Andrea Paul told Refinery29. "As a registered dietician 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.”

Gary Foster, chief scientific officer at WW, gave the following explanation to Huffington Post:

“I think there could be some misperception that somehow we’re saying, ‘All kids should lose weight, you’re not OK as you are,’” he added. “What we’re saying to kids who are trying to achieve a healthier weight — kids and families — is that this is a reasonable, sensible way to do it.” Achieving a “healthier weight” is very different for children and adults, he said, because children are constantly growing.

Learn more about the WW app for kids and teens here

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