Weight Watchers Criticized For Kids “Diet” App

By Victoria Kim 09/04/19

Critics claim that the app's focus on categorizing food could lead to disordered eating in children.

Image: 
kid using the weight watchers "diet" app

A new app is getting flack for promoting dieting in children and teenagers.

Kurbo, released by WW (formerly Weight Watchers) on Aug. 13, was designed to help young people aged 8-17 lose weight in a “healthy” way, but it’s garnered outrage among those who say it promotes disordered eating.

Good Food, Bad Food

The app utilizes a “traffic light system” to help kids discern which foods are “good” and “bad.”

“Green light foods, including all fruits and veggies, are great to eat anytime. Yellows like lean proteins and pasta are also good. You’ll just watch your portions,” according to Kurbo’s official website. And “red foods, like candy and soda? You don’t have to give them up. Just stop and think how to budget them in.”

WW says the method is supported by science, but according to a petition seeking the removal of Kurbo, “Categorizing foods like this can lead to food guilt or anxiety.” The change.org petition had nearly 108,000 signatures as of Wednesday morning.

The traffic light system is the same one used by Stanford’s Pediatric Weight Control Program, according to the app’s developer, Joanna Strober. She created Kurbo to help her son manage his weight, per a pediatrician’s advice, she told USA Today. A mobile app was preferable to her son, who did not like attending the program in person. The family also had trouble affording the cost of the program.

Gary Foster, WW’s chief science officer, told USA Today that Kurbo is not only evidence-based, it is preferable to the barrage of unhealthy weight loss strategies and “unrealistically thin ideals” that are promoted on social media.

“It’s a simple way to teach kids a healthy pattern of eating,” said Foster. “Everything that’s in the app is science based. It’s not about dieting. It’s not about calorie counting. It’s not about restrictions. This is not a diet that says get rid of red foods, only eat green foods.”

Negative Reviews

There are plenty of negative reviews of Kurbo on Google Play and Apple’s App Store claiming the app is “preying” on parents’ fears of disordered eating and diabetes. However, one App Store reviewer left a solid five star review, slamming the app’s critics.

“Everyone seems angry about this app, and it’s making me enraged,” reviewer KikiKite, who is in recovery from anorexia, said in late August. "America has a weight problem, and here is a well-known and trusted establishment creating an app to help promote HEALTH.”

While a representative for the American Academy of Pediatrics, Sarah Armstrong, acknowledged that the method used in Kurbo is supported by research and is effective when combined with counseling and other modes of treatment, she said the app itself is new and its effectiveness is to be determined.

Armstrong also said there is some truth to the claim that focusing on diet and nutrition can lead to disordered eating. “There is some evidence that talking about weight particularly even by family members in kids of any weight, shape, or size, not necessarily just in kids with obesity, can make kids really start over-focusing on it and can lead to restrictive eating… that is associated with more unhealthy outcomes.”

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Victoria is interested in anything that has to do with how mind-altering substances impact society. Find Victoria on LinkedIn or Tumblr

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