Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving

Lose the Weight Watchers

4 Comments

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Last year Weight Watchers rebranded as WW because they wanted to pretend that they were about healthy lifestyles and not just weight loss. This week they announced the release of their new weight loss app for kids (as young as eight!) and teens. They’re trying to frame it as “helping kids and teens build healthy habits” but when the central feature of the app is food tracking don’t be fooled; this is Weight Watchers points for kids and creating a “bad food” “good food” dichotomy is likely to do anything but help these kids build life-long healthy habits.

An eight year old tracking every morsel of food they eat with the sole aim of losing weight is pretty much the antithesis of a healthy habit. Rather than help kids develop healthy habits this app is far more likely to instil them with an unhealthy relationship with food and their bodies. And while I personally ascribe to the belief that weight is not indicative of health, I hope that all healthcare providers and parents can see why an app like this could be damaging to children whether or not they view “overweight” and “obesity” as a “problem”. Weight is not a modifiable behaviour and focusing on weight loss as an end goal doesn’t promote the adoption of healthy behaviours. Rather, it promotes restricted eating and quite probably disordered eating habits in order to attain that goal.

Given that very few adults successfully maintain intentional long-term weight loss, I find it baffling that WW claims that their new app is “evidence-based” and will somehow be more successful (if you are measuring success by pounds lost) in children and youth than similar programs have been in adults. It also makes me sad to see the quotes around “stopping arguments about food” so that parents and children get along better. Placing the responsibility for food choices in the hands of an app rather than working on fostering a healthy food environment at home may seem ideal but this doesn’t truly promote healthy behaviours. I know not everyone can afford to work with a registered dietitian (and not all RDs ascribe to the same school of thought when it comes to body weight); however, I recommend Ellyn Satter’s books which can be found at your public library if you want to help your child attain a healthy relationship with food.

It’s also important to keep in mind that WW is a for-profit business. They are not doing this out of the goodness of their hearts. They are doing this because there’s money to be made – one month use of the app is $69 USD. They’re doing this because a “fun” app is an easier sell to parents who are concerned about their children’s weight than working on the division of responsibility, role modelling healthy behaviours and positive relationships with food, and cooking and eating nutritious balanced meals together as a family. They’re doing this because weight bias is so rampant in our society that many people can think of few things worse than being fat and parents are desperate to save their children from that plight. I get that. Parents just want their children to be healthy. Unfortunately, an app that encourages a restrictive diet mentality is likely to achieve the opposite of health promotion.

Author: Diana

I'm a registered dietitian from Nova Scotia, living and working in Ontario, Canada. My goal is to help people relearn how to have a healthy relationship with food.

4 thoughts on “Lose the Weight Watchers

  1. Well said! I just finished a book by Laura Fraser: Losing It: America’s Obsession with Weight and the Industry that Feeds on It. This was written in 1997 but seems to hold true today, based on your blog. Weight Watchers had no evidence based studies then…..or now. Sad that so many weight-loss programs still get it wrong and don’t seem to care at all about that.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’d never heard of Kurbo until now. Their clam of it being “science-based” is via a claim that it’s “traffic light system was developed at Stanford University, based on more than 30 years of research” with a link to “Stanford Children’s Health” but I see nothing on the linked page that substantiates it.

    Personally, I’ve used an app (MyFitnessPal) beginning 8 years ago to help me lose weight and I’m one of the outliers who’ve kept it off. But the introduction of an app to kids makes me cringe. And even I have moved away from weight loss and am concentrating on fitness without regard to what happens to my weight. Becoming thin was completely unsatisfying.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for your comment and for sharing your experience. I know lots of people who find apps like myfitnesspal useful in reaching nutrition goals but like you said, it’s a different matter entirely when it’s being promoted for children and assigning moral value to food.

      Liked by 1 person

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