For most women, eventually they reach an age where they start dieting.
According to Weight Watchers, 8-years-old is apparently an appropriate time for that to happen.
WW, as the rebranded company is now known, has introduced Kurbo, a weight-loss and nutrition app designed for children and teens aged 8-17 years old. Joanna Strober, co-founder of Kurbo said: ‘According to recent reports from the World Health Organization, childhood obesity is one of the most serious public health challenges of the 21st century. This is a global public health crisis that needs to be addressed at scale.’
Released on 13 August 2019, Kurbo, while only available in America for now, was acquired by WW in 2018 who have spent a year developing the app. With Snapchat-like interfaces and ‘streaks’ to encourage regular interaction, it is designed to attract its target audience with child-friendly features. But is there really anything child friendly about a weight-loss app?
Children and teens, are directed to enter their age, weight, height and health goals, before listing everything they eat. There is the Stanford University developed ‘traffic light system’ to help kids keep track of what is good for them, and what is bad. Green foods are ‘go foods’ that can be enjoyed with no pressure, yellow foods are advised to be consumed within moderation and red foods are a no go, advising children to ‘stop and think.’
And for a small fee of $69 a month (I’m sure their pocket money will cover that right?) a video coach is also available on a weekly basis. These coaches are trained to detect any signs of eating disorders, unhealthy weight loss or the early stages of a spiralling obsession.
The announcement has brought an onslaught of comments, with a mixture of both approval and downright rejection. With some praising the app for the progressive aid it has already provided for their children, Strober said: ‘As a mom whose son struggled with his weight at a young age, I can personally attest to the importance and significance of having a solution like Kurbo by WW, which is inherently designed to be simple, fun and effective.’
But some people are angry. A weight loss app for kids? Surely not. Not in 2019. Not when mental health is at the height of daily conversations.
According the NHS, both men and women can get an eating disorder at any age, but the most commonly affected group are young women aged 13-17, almost the prime target audience for the Kurbo app. Saskia Marriott, a 22 year old social media manager, has struggled with food and eating since her late teens, and believes that an app is not the answer. ‘If a parent is worried about their child’s weight, they should look at what they are feeding them and encourage them to exercise more, even just an hour’s walk after school would make a massive difference.’
A study conducted by charitable enterprise, Better, and OnePoll suggests that once the domino begins to fall, the consequences are sometimes unstoppable. The survey, conducted in June looked at 2,000 people across the UK and found that low body confidence affected younger people most, with 57% of 18-24 year olds saying it affected their mental health, as well as 37% therefore avoiding certain clothes and 22% avoiding taking part in physical activity. So if the attraction towards exercise and healthy eating is on the decline, what is the cost?
Helena Lewis, a psychotherapist and mental health expert, said: ‘By watching dieting and weight from a young age, you set a dangerous precedent and there is a huge risk of becoming obsessed with your body, how it looks and you develop an unrealistic ideal of how bodies should look. But more worryingly, by restricting diets and focusing on weight loss from a young age can prevent children getting the nutrition and foods that they need, halting development and potentially causing future health issues.
‘Using an app to measure weight loss adds too much pressure to both the parent and the child, and puts the responsibility on the child, rather than the parent. The child becomes too aware of what they are eating, and can develop a potentially dangerous relationship with food, as well as bad habits - both which will go with them into adulthood. Healthy eating is all about enjoying food, and appreciating and learning how to eat well.’
Twitter’s resident agony aunt, Jameela Jamil, took to social media to exclaim her distaste over the new app.
Although the debate is still up in the air whether Kurbo will have some value or not, the point is everyone’s talking. And for those who have suffered in silence with eating disorders and unhealthy eating habits for so long, maybe this is the time for their voice to be heard.
Grazia have reached out to WW for comment and are yet to receive a reply, we’ll update you if we hear from them