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Weight Watchers’ New App For Kids Sparks Outrage

Weight loss: It’s probably one of the most used words in the era we live in. It’s a massive moneymaker. It’s got millions of people within its iron grip. It kills countless people every year. Most of us are fighting for change, but the industry is ruthless. It wants money – and now it wants your children.

Kurbo

All right, so what the heck was that dramatic intro all about? Well, you’re probably familiar with Weight Watchers, or, as they are now known, WW. Last week they introduced a new app, called Kurbo. Kurbo is not for adults. No, it’s for the next generation. Kurbo is for kids aged 8 to 17. It’s got before and after pictures, it’s got “weight loss” as one of its main goals. It’s trying to suck kids in at a young age before they even have a fighting chance. Upset? You should be.

What is its goal?

According to CNBC, Kurbo’s main goal is to help kids reach a healthier weight. Kurbo was acquired by WW last year, and is a digital health start-up with a system based on Stanford University’s pediatric obesity program. The app allows kids to track their food with the free app. Yes, that’s a fancy way of saying that the app helps them to count their calories. The app sorts different foods into a green, yellow, or red category, supposedly helping kids to make better food choices.

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Kurbo places foods in different groups, depending on how “healthy” they are.
Image: Kurbo

It’s a really, really bad idea

Let’s just throw this out there while we’re at it – kids shouldn’t be responsible for making all their food choices at age 8, their parents should be setting a good example and making sure that they eat healthy meals. This app is not going to replace a parent’s guidance, nor is it a healthy thing to introduce to kids. In fact, it’s probably the worst thing you can give your kid. The money-making doesn’t stop here – kids can also consult with a digital coach on the app for a fee of $69 per month.

WW’s Chief Scientific Officer Gary Foster said that they are very excited about the app’s launch: “This is a scientifically proven way to get kids to eat healthier and move more, so we’re excited to get it into as many hands as possible.”

Some actually applauded the app

The worst part about this is that a lot of parents who are WW loyalists applauded the app, saying that WW transformed their lives and that they are hoping it will do the same for their children. Yeah, sure, it’s going to change your child’s life alright. Into a mess they’ll have to deal with for as long as they live. 

Anna Sweeney, dietitian and owner of Whole Life Nutrition Counseling in Concord, Massachusetts, condemned the app, but said that she can understand why some parents would sign their kids up.

“I really do appreciate the idea that parents are signing up their children in ways that are largely well-intended, but what we know is that preoccupation with food and righteousness around food does not create healthy relationships with food. It does not leave people feeling good or competent in eating.”

What does Kurbo entail?

So, what exactly does Kurbo entail? Well, kids signing up need to enter their name, height, gender, and, of course, their weight. Then, as with most fitness apps, they need to choose a goal. They have the following options: Lose weight, eat healthier, make parents happy (yes, really), get stronger and fitter, have more energy, boost my confidence, or feel better in my clothes. Can we all just take a moment to realize that no kid should feel the need to have any of the abovementioned things as goals? Especially not at age 8. And how the heck could they put “make parents happy” in there? What the hell?

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Kids can choose from a variety of goals, of which weight loss is one.
Image: Kurbo

Parents should teach their kids healthy habits, not an app

Dietician Abby Langer from Toronto, Canada, seems to share our feelings about this, saying that she wanted to “barf” when she heard “make parents” happy was an option. She added, “Kids who are overweight know they’re overweight and already feel bad about it. Giving this app to a kid is like saying there’s something wrong with you.” We agree one hundred freaking percent. Why should kids be told from such a young age that they need to watch what they’re putting into their bodies? It’s their parents’ job, and parents who don’t want to take on that responsibility should’ve thought twice before having children. They look to you for guidance on everything – from table manners to what you put into your body and the kind of relationship you have with food. Be an adult and show them the way, don’t rely on a stupid app to do it.

Kurbo’s toxic goals

Back to the goal-setting of Kurbo – once you’ve selected your goal, you have to say how important it is on a scale from one to ten and how confident you are that you’re going to reach it. Gosh, they’re kids, now you’re going to make them feel bad when they eat too many foods in the “red group”? Really? They should be playing and worrying about homework.

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The app tracks how much food you ate from each color group.
Image: Kurbo

Another culprit included in the app is body mass index (BMI), which is a formula based on a person’s height and weight. This comes after research has proven that BMI can be incredibly deceptive and offers no real insight on how healthy you actually are. Then the app also allows its users to check how many green, yellow, and red foods they’ve eaten throughout the week. In short, it’s a glorified way of saying that it’ll count the calories consumed throughout the week. What a great leap forward.

Its creators think its the best app ever

Foster, of course, doesn’t see it this way. He says that the app is in no way a “diet app”. He defines a diet as keto or paleo that labels certain foods as bad and encourages people to avoid them. Erm, sir, what do you call labeling certain foods as “red foods” then? Asking for a friend.

Foster is convinced that Kurbo will help children to establish healthy patterns. Yeah, sure, if you want to call obsessing over food and developing eating disorders a healthy pattern. Food and body image coach Linda Tucker says that the color system is “problematic” because it “loses nuance”. She says that she understands the intention to make the app simple to use for kids of all ages, but even though the app does not specifically track calories or fat, “it’ still saying these foods are better than these foods without any context.” She added, “It’s not realistic, and it’s not a healthy way to teach anyone about food, especially children.”

It features before and after pictures

The worst part about the app is probably the “success stories” that are featured. These show before and after images, including how many pounds the users lost. According to Foster, these were included in the app upon request from parents and adolescents who wanted to see images of those “who have been successful”, adding that these images are supposed to be “inspirational”. According to us, and Tucker, this is utter rubbish. “If Kurbo wants to create healthy body image and healthy habits for teens, I’m all for that. The problem is when you introduce the idea of weight loss, everything becomes poison.”

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The app shows before and after pictures of children as young as eight years.
Image: Kurbo

The app’s coaches aren’t qualified for the job

Then there’s the question of the qualifications of those serving as coaches on the app. Apparently, Kurbo doesn’t rely on qualified experts to do the coaching. Some of these “coaches” have degrees in communications, economics, and tourism management, but Foster says that Kurbo’s coaches are “highly trained and highly effective.” Wow, so they’re redefining what highly trained means too. In Foster’s own words: “If we want to live our purpose of making wellness accessible to all and doing it outside an academic medical center, we’re not going to be able to hire pediatricians, dietitians, exercise physiologists, and psychologists. What we do well is take science and scale it, measure the impact to make sure we’re living up to our purpose.”

Yeah, science without qualified people to give advice to these young kids aren’t going to cut it, mister. We hope you realize that sooner rather than later.

Even the experts are furious

If you’re furious right now, fear not – you’re not alone. According to Yahoo Lifestyle, a petition has been started to remove the app from all downloading platforms. Its creator, Holly Stallcup, who suffered from an eating disorder herself, calls the app “dangerous, irresponsible and immoral”. Nicole Avena, MD, assistant professor of a Neuroscience at Mount Sinai School of Medicine and author of Why Diets Fail, agree with this statement, saying, “Telling kids that they need to ‘lose’ weight is the wrong message. Children are growing and their bodies are changing as that happens, and so will their weight. The conversation should be about health, never weight. Focusing on weight loss as a goal will send the wrong message to kids, and can be a primer for disordered eating behaviors later on.”

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Kids can track what kind of foods they consume in each category.
Image: Kurbo

Social media is ablaze with furious people

Furious people took to Twitter to voice their opinions on the matter and share their own struggles with eating disorders, and it’s safe to say that Kurbo is possibly the most unpopular app at the moment.

We need to stop this

One thing’s for sure – we cannot allow the existence of apps like this. We need to stop it before it becomes something every kid out there uses to track their diet. If we fail at doing so, the next generation will be off far worse than we are – and let’s be honest, we’re already pretty messed up as it is. Everything we’re trying to do to encourage body positivity and self-love will be washed down the drain if apps like these become the new normal. We simply cannot allow it.

If you feel as strongly about this as we do, you can go sign the change.org petition here.

Over to you: What do you think of Kurbo? Drop your thoughts in the comments. 

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9 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Lynsey

    August 20, 2019 at 6:13 am

    This app – especially with the ‘traffic light’ system, is going to lay the groundwork for orthorexia.

    A lot of kids have terrible examples being set for them at home – an app won’t fix that. It’s not a simple case of give an extra class at school or an app the kid can ‘control’ – who control what goes in the grocery cart?

    Parents don’t wilfully set a bad example for children – they either don’t really know how to tackle it themselves, lack education or lack funding.

    The whole infrastructure needs a reboot – not a tool that will basically set a kid up to feel like a failure.

    1. Avatar

      Erin Motz

      August 20, 2019 at 6:21 am

      totally agree with you

  2. Avatar

    Lacey

    August 20, 2019 at 7:33 am

    It’s bizarre to have this app for kids, when parents do the grocery shopping and preparation. Including your child in those activities while talking to them about whole foods and their goodness, would far better assist a child struggling with their health. It’s an app for a child of a parent who is probably well-intentioned, but currently involved in their own misconceptions of healthy diet and acceptable food-related behaviours.
    My 11 yr old has been asking for a Fitbit for ages and we have not bought him one because I want him to just move his body and have fun being a kid! He doesn’t need to count his steps, he needs to frolic around carelessly with his buddies, laughing and sweating and being 11! Same goes for this app. Kids need balanced nutrition, giving them healthy choices and positive dialogue. Plain and simple!

  3. Avatar

    Nina

    August 20, 2019 at 8:51 am

    This is bad beyond words. Kids should not take care of their weight. That is purely parents’ responsability. To teach kids through positive example, limiting screen time, spending time outdoor, making an effort to find an activity their kid(s) will enjoy, etc. This just seems like a fast lane to a lifetime of eating disorders. 🙁

    Kids’ bodies change so fast, we grow until 21 even. Some of us are bigger, some smaller, some gain in puberty, some lose… This is teaching kids weight DOES define our worth.

    “Make parents happy”? This one really stung me. I was raised to make parents happy. 32 now, and I still struggle with the notion if what makes me happy will make my parents/grandparents happy. On top of all, adding a kid’s weight as a factor in parents’ happiness?? So wrong. Wrong on so many leves.

  4. Avatar

    Sarah

    August 20, 2019 at 9:18 am

    This app is so wrong on Monday levels, most importantly to me making foods such as avacados and cashews “red light foods” or bad choices. Kids need good days to help their brains grow and be able to learn!
    Plus giving a child an app will not change the food that is available to them in their home… only an adult can do that. It will most likely just give them food issues and cause them to eat less of the crappy food available to them- leading to dissordered eating. Sad.

  5. Avatar

    Allie

    August 20, 2019 at 9:19 am

    As a child who struggled with obesity and was constantly teased I wish my parents would’ve had this tool. WW helped me deal with my addiction to junk food. Sure parents should be modeling healthy habits, but that’s not everyone’s reality. Especially if parents are finding success in WW then this app might allow the family to do the program as a whole. It might not be the best, but I think it’s dramatic to say it’s this terrible and if you haven’t ever done WE, don’t knock it. A lot of people have success and the program does NOT make you feel guilty all the time.

  6. Avatar

    Sarah

    August 20, 2019 at 9:21 am

    Autocorrect 🙈. *Many levels, not Mondays, and *kids need good Fats, not days. Sorry for the typos 😂

  7. Avatar

    Liz

    August 20, 2019 at 3:36 pm

    I have so many problems with this app. I’m an occupational therapist and work with children and families with feeding/eating difficulties. Eating is one of the most complex things we do. It requires every sensory system, oral motor skills, and is extremely influenced by cultural systems. I work a lot of developing a healthy relationship with food and labeling food as “good” and “bad” doesn’t help with that. I realize parents have good intentions when it comes to providing children with healthy options, but excluding other foods is not healthy either. Also, children are supposed to grow! Weight and loss should never ber a focus. IT DOES NOT WORK THE SAME AS IT DOES WITH ADULTS! For example, kids need healthy fats for brain development. I could go on and on for reasons I’m upset with this, but I’ll sum it up. Exposure to foods is key. Modeling eating and habits is key. Emphasizing strengths is key. Let’s move away from the importance of weight and diet culture, please.

    1. Avatar

      David

      September 4, 2019 at 2:26 am

      Totally agree with you, Liz.

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