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There's a New Diet App for Kids, and That Scares Me

Why I find WW's new diet app, Kurbo, deeply concerning.

WW (formerly known as Weight Watchers) has just released a new weight-loss app for kids age 8 to 17. It’s called Kurbo and it’s basically a calorie counting app for kids who are too young to count calories. Based on the Traffic Light Diet, the program categorizes foods into Green Light, Yellow Light, and Red Light categories and has kids track what they eat.

Image by khamkhor from Pixabay
Source: Image by khamkhor from Pixabay

I don’t know about you, but the image of an 8-year old child logging their ice-cream cone into a calorie-counting app just breaks my heart.

But if that’s not enough to convince you that Kurbo is a terrible idea, here are a few more reasons why, as a psychologist and eating disorders specialist, I find this app deeply concerning.

  1. Dieting increases the risk of eating disorders exponentially. Research shows that dieting is the most robust predictor of developing an eating disorder. Teens who diet are between 5-to-18 times more likely to develop an eating disorder, compared to teens who don’t diet.
  2. Eating disorders in children are already increasing at alarming rates. In the past 20 years, eating disorder hospitalization rates for children under 12 increased by 119 percent and eating disorder treatment centers now accept children as young as 8 years old. Nearly half of all preschool-aged children (ages 3 to 6) worry about being fat, and 80 percent of 10-year-old girls are afraid of being fat. Our children don’t need diet plans or more messaging that fat is bad or that they need to change their bodies.
  3. Kurbo directly contradicts recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). In 2016, The AAP released guidelines warning parents and healthcare providers about the risks of focusing on weight loss and dieting with children and adolescents. Instead, the AAP recommends helping kids develop a healthy body image, avoiding weight talk, and eating family meals together. Physicians are encouraged to focus on improving health across the weight spectrum without focusing on weight.
  4. Focusing on weight loss sets kids up for a lifetime of body-image issues. A 2016 research study found that women whose parents had made comments about their weight in childhood had higher levels of body dissatisfaction, even when controlling for BMI. The more that parents commented on a child’s weight, the more dissatisfied the child felt with his or her body as an adult.
  5. Dieting doesn’t work. Let’s put aside the dangers of dieting for a moment and look at one very simple and compelling fact: They don’t work. Between 91 and 95 percent of diets fail to result in sustainable long-term weight loss. In fact, the most predictable long-term outcome of dieting is actually weight gain. Would you take a medication with a 5 percent efficacy rate and an extraordinarily high risk of life-threatening complications?

Parents, I’m asking you—pleading with you—not to put your children on a diet. Our children deserve to fully engage in the world unencumbered by body shame and thoughts of dieting and food tracking.

If you agree about the dangers of this app, reach out to WW and let them know. You can easily find them on social media. Hopefully, we can all work together to get this program that targets children removed from the marketplace.

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