Experts criticise Weight Watchers over 'irresponsible' diet app aimed at children

'This is objectively horrifying and wrong on absolutely every level'

Sarah Young
Thursday 15 August 2019 15:30 BST
Comments
Beat Eating Disorders

Support truly
independent journalism

Our mission is to deliver unbiased, fact-based reporting that holds power to account and exposes the truth.

Whether $5 or $50, every contribution counts.

Support us to deliver journalism without an agenda.

Louise Thomas

Louise Thomas

Editor

Experts have condemned WW – formerly known as Weight Watchers – for launching an “irresponsible” weight loss app aimed at children.

The app, which is named Kurbo, has been designed to “help kids and teens reach a healthier weight and build healthy habits”.

The app works by asking children to enter their age, weight, height and health goals, before listing everything they eat in a food diary.

It also adopts a traffic light system, which was developed by Stanford University, to help children learn what foods are good and bad for their health.

However, numerous critics have voiced concerns that the app could trigger obsessive and unhealthy eating behaviours in vulnerable children.

WW has targeted the app at children aged between eight and 17 years old, and it has so far only been launched in the US.

On Tuesday, WW presented the app on Twitter, writing: “We’re excited to introduce @KurboHealth, a science-backed tool uniquely designed for kids and teens who want to improve their eating habits and get more active.”

The company also shared a video of a 12-year-old girl called Juliana who said the app helped improve her running time at school.

WW’s announcement quickly caught the attention of critics on social media, with many suggesting that the app could put children at risk of developing eating disorders.

“There’s nothing healthy or healing about training kids to track and restrict food intake,” one person wrote on Twitter.

Another commented: “Weight Watchers making a weight loss app for children is so objectively horrifying and wrong on absolutely every level. Makes sense, because WW literally relies on eating disorders for their money.

Actor and body neutrality activist Jameela Jamil also weighed in on the topic, writing: “Oh f*** no... are we kidding? Breeding obsession with weight and calories and food at the age of...8?

“I was 11 when my obsession started, due to being put on a diet for being the heaviest girl in the class. I became afraid of food. It ruined my teens and twenties.[sic]”

The Good Place star continued by urging parents who are concerned about their child’s health or lifestyle not to weigh their children.

“Give them plenty of nutritious food and make sure they get plenty of fun exercise that helps their mental health,” Jamil added.

“Don’t burden them with numbers, charts or ‘success/failure'. It’s a slippery slope.”

The app has caused so much controversy that more than 2,000 people have already signed a petition calling for it to be removed.

Speaking to The Independent, Obesity UK – a charity supporting children and adults struggling with obesity problems – condemned WW’s new app, calling the organisation “very irresponsible”.

“Obesity UK are concerned about the launch of the new WW app, children are very vulnerable during the age range they are targeting and they are potentially setting them up for a lifetime of weight related disorders,” said Sarah Le Broc, director at Obesity UK.

“Studies suggest that childhood weight-loss efforts can, if not done right, lead to or worsen disordered eating and body image issues.

“WW are being very irresponsible for launching something like this and are clearly only thinking about the £ signs.”

Nutritionist and author Rhiannon Lambert agreed, adding that she sees many cases of of disordered eating and poor relationships with food as a result of diets and exposure to dieting at a young age.

“How children view food, experience it and are educated around it really does shape their future mental health and physical health,” Lambert said.

“I am extremely concerned with this new app. Enforcing restrictive measures and ideals based on numbers at such a young age can be harmful for the child now and in the future.

“While I can see we need to help the future generations with their health, I do not believe this is the answer.”

According the NHS, men and women of any age can get an eating disorder, but they most commonly affect young women aged 13 to 17 years old.

Beat – a charity supporting those affected by eating disorders – adds that while many eating disorders develop during adolescence, it is aware of cases of anorexia in children as young as six.

Support free-thinking journalism and attend Independent events

The Independent has contacted WW for comment.

For confidential support with eating disorders, anyone over 18 can contact Beat on their phone support helpline by calling 0808 801 0677 or emailing help@beateatingdisorders.org.uk.

Beat also has a youth helpline to anyone under 18. You can call the charity on 0808 801 0711 or email fyp@beateatingdisorders.org.uk.

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in