Weight Watchers’ New Kurbo App is Diet Culture for Kids
By now, I’m sure you’ve heard the news about Weight Watchers, or sorry, ‘WW’, acquiring an app called Kurbo. Kurbo is aimed at kids ages 8-17 and is a free nutrition and weight loss app.
Yes, I said weight loss and age 8 in the same sentence.
What is WW Kurbo?
Kurbo is couched in WW’s latest ‘wellness’ philosophy, meaning that the focus isn’t on weight loss, so to speak. Instead, it’s on ‘healthy eating’.
But just like WW, Kurbo is a diet in disguise, its messaging more than concerning.
In an article in Time Magazine, the CEO of WW said that ‘Kurbo is an extension of (WW’s) total-health mission. “If we are going to change health trajectories, we have to educate, inspire and support at an earlier point in time,” she says. “There is a very significant need to help families earlier.”
Okay, and how does putting kids on a diet help families again?
The founder of Kurbo, on hearing peoples’ concerns about putting kids on diets and this increasing their risk for eating disorders, had the worst defense of them all. She said that ‘professionally run obesity treatment’ leads to a decreased risk for eating disorders in most participants.
But KURBO ISN’T PROFESSIONALLY RUN!! So what is she even talking about!!?
On Kurbo, kids enter their height and weight (I’m cringing already, TBH) and then start tracking their food.
The Problem with Kurbo by Weight Watchers
This is perhaps the most cringeworthy part of Kurbo (besides the name). Who in the world thinks that kids tracking their food is a good idea? Are you kidding me right now? Is WW out of their fucking minds?
An 8 year old tracking their food? Some adults can’t even handle the triggering and obsessive aspects of tracking everything they eat. Why subject a child to this sort of thing?
It does NOT encourage a healthy relationship with food.
It does NOT teach kids to make nourishing choices.
In many people, tracking DOES lead to guilt and shame around eating.
In vulnerable people, even kids, it CAN lead to disordered eating and eating disorders.
And YES, this is a diet. Diets in kids can cause low self-esteem and a lifetime of more diets.
Do you know how many of my clients and followers have told me that being put on a diet when they were a child, Weight Watchers or other, was the trigger for their decades-long eating disorder?
I know you can imagine, there have been many of these people. So many.
How does Kurbo Work?
Kurbo uses a ‘traffic light’ system to teach kids about which foods to choose.
Each food falls into a category: Green foods, such as fruits and vegetables, can be eaten in whichever quantities the child wants. Yellow foods like lean proteins and pasta should be portion-controlled. Red foods like candy and soda aren’t meant to be eliminated completely, but the kid needs to ‘stop and think how to budget them in.’
Kurbo doubles down on the traffic-light concept by saying that this system was developed at Stanford University and that it’s safe and effective for weight loss.
Maybe for ADULTS, but do they think it’s a good idea to categorize foods by ‘green means go and red means stop?’
All I see with this method is red = bad. Green = good.
Aaaand here we go with good and bad foods.
To be fair, the traffic light system has been shown in some studies to be effective for weight loss. And I guess it’s a fair way of teaching people which foods can be more nourishing than others. But do they have to use the ‘red’ color which signifies ‘bad’ in many peoples’ minds?
And if a kid eats a lot of red foods in a day, or in a week, how will that make them feel emotionally?
How would it make YOU feel? Ugh.
Lots of kids who are overweight probably feel shitty about themselves already without being told to track their food and eat like a traffic light with this app. It’s like telling them that they’re flawed, that their bodies are WRONG. They don’t look right. And that is soul-crushingly terrible for them.
WW defends the traffic light system by saying that it has been in use since the 1970s. So have many other harmful things, but that doesn’t make them a good idea to use on kids!
Kurbo has coaches just like grown-up Weight Watchers, and some of them are introduced on the site. They’re all quite young, which is fine, because kids tend to relate to kids.
Kurbo says these coaches have all had background checks. They’ve also received training in fitness, nutrition, and mental health, and on that basis, Kurbo calls them ‘dedicated experts.’
But these ‘coaches’ are in school for or have degrees in such areas as economics, tourism management, business, and communications. No RDs in sight. What does a 21 year old majoring in Economics know about coaching children for weight loss?
Just in case you were wondering, I’m shaking my head in dismay right now.
I guess normal WW coaches are just as (not) experienced either, but you’d think with children, WW would have some higher standards. I guess not!
I’m pretty confident that I wouldn’t let one of these ‘coaches’ even think of counselling my kids on their nutrition. And I certainly wouldn’t call them ‘experts,’ although I’m sure WW thinks that’s a clever way to market them to concerned parents.
I know that obesity is a huge issue in North America, and I’m starting to see adult weight loss companies marketing their crap to kids. Just this month, Isagenix released their line of Isakids shakes, complete with shaker cup!
Isakids isn’t meant to be a weight loss drink, but it’s a short hop from the kids’ shakes in grade three to the weight loss shakes in grade seven, and you know I’m right about this. Get them down with the shaker cup and it will be a lifelong habit.
It’s a push for brand-loyalty so that kids will grow up as WW or Isagenix devotees. Welcome to diet culture for kids.
Does the Kurbo App Solve Anything?
Now we have Kurbo, but it’s not going to solve the problem. Putting kids on diets is not going to solve the obesity issue in this country.
The issue is a psychosocial, socioeconomic one. It’s a systemic one. It’s a complex, multi-faceted problem. I think the solution lies with interventions like education for the entire family about shopping and cooking.
Community resources for parents who work shifts and can’t cook for their kids.
Mandatory home ec and nutrition classes in schools.
Food subsidies for produce, not fucking corn chips.
It also involves parents who set a good example for their kids by not only eating a varied diet, but also, not dieting or talking about fat bodies as though they’re the most terrible thing in the universe.
Also important to consider is that many kids grow OUT before they grow UP. I’ve seen many a referral for a child who has gained a lot of weight in a short period of time, but hasn’t reached their height potential yet. It’s called, GROWING. And it’s normal. Yet, many parents see their kids gaining weight and they freak out because god forbid their kid should be fat.
We need to understand that putting kids on diets is never a good idea. NEVER.
So, Weight Watchers WW, this is not a ‘total health mission.’
It’s a harmful idea that may harm more than it helps. These are kids we’re talking about.
Do better. Don’t do this.