Weight Watchers Targeting Teens to Lose Weight

Three big Issues with Weight Watchers's new $2 billion branding campaign.

Posted Feb 09, 2018

Kristen Fuller
Source: Kristen Fuller

Background: Weight Watchers just announced a rebranding plan to target $2 billion in sales by the year 2020. As part of this campaign, Weight Watchers will offer teens ages 13 to 17 free memberships this summer as part of its plan reach the company’s fiscal goals. Let’s look at three reasons this campaign is potentially harmful to clients with eating disorders.

Vulnerability.

Clients with anorexia and bulimia who have pervasive psychological undercurrents motivating their behavior with food are negatively impacted by the billion dollar marketing efforts of the weight loss industry.  When weight, body size and shape are seen as synonymous with love, acceptance, and self-worth, young people are vulnerable to the efforts of the weight loss industry. The same advertisements that target “healthy” behaviors can trigger life threatening “unhealthy” behaviors in others, especially in the teenagers who struggle to fit in with their peers. 

Bariatric surgery and eating disorders.

The weight-loss industry does not take into account individuals who may be struggling with a diagnosable underlying binge eating disorder and for whom weight loss is an endless cycle of yo-yo dieting that deteriorates the individual's self-esteem over time. There were 216,000 bariatric surgeries in 2016 alone and an estimated 16% of those individuals were struggling with an underlying binge eating disorder.  These individuals will often have detrimental effects from bariatric surgery because the underlying psychological disorder was not dealt with prior and therefore the weight loss after the surgery masks the underlying issue.

Eliminates hope for body positivity campaigns.

The fact that Weight Watchers is targeting teens ages 13 to 17 with revenue goals in mind ignores the opportunity for philosophies such as Health At Every Size, Intuitive Eating, and Body Trust to be introduced as a self-affirming and recovery oriented perspectives. Weight loss sends the message “there is something wrong with me” and promotes a shame based lens for these impressionable teens.

With National Eating Disorder Awareness week just around the corner and our eating disorder treatment centers currently full across the nation, one important word has been on our minds…PREVENTION.  As an eating disorder advocate and treatment provider, this Weight Watchers announcement is harmful to our mission of promoting body acceptance, reducing weight stigma in our society, and promoting lifelong recovery from eating disorders.

Feel free to join the “Twitter Takeover” campaign in which we will flood @WeightWatchers with our thoughts on this dangerous plan.

Contributed by Dawn Delgado, LMFT, CEDS-S, Certified Eating Disorder Specialist – Supervisor, EMDR Trained Trauma Clinician, National Director of Operations for Center For Discovery