Weight Watchers Is Harming Kids For Money

Weight Watchers is Harming Kids for Profit Fight Back.Weight Watchers (or WW as they’re trying to rebrand themselves, as if it changes their legacy of harming fat people for money) has launched a new app for children ages 8-17 called Kurbo. I’ve had a few hundred requests to write about it, but it took me a while because I’ve been in a rage coma ever since I learned that, upon hearing from eating disorder experts that this app would harm children, Weight Watchers CEO, Mindy Grossman, responded by saying “It actually strengthened our resolve and made us offensive.” (Trust me when I tell you Mindy, you were already offensive.)

So this is your “Tldr” – experts told Weight Watchers that they are going to hurt kids, and their response was “that just makes us want to do it more.” If that doesn’t convince you of that plain fact that Weight Watchers is a dumpster fire in every dumpster in a factory that manufactures industrial-sized dumpsters, it’s not likely that anything will. Still, there’s more to know here.

First, it’s important to understand that Weight Watchers built their business model with the full understanding that most people lose weight short term while dieting, but that in the long term almost everyone gains the weight back on matter what they do, with a majority gaining back more than they lost.

Their marketing “genius” was in finding a way to take credit for the first part of that biological response, and getting their clients (and everyone else) to blame themselves for the second part, and thus be duped into returning to Weight Watchers to start the cycle again. That created the base of a business model that guaranteed the repeat business they needed to succeed wildly.

Having had success with that model since 1963, until a few years ago people finally wised up, their stock took a dive and they went to desperate measures, including their ridiculous rebrand and their choice to target young children to try to create life-long customers.

Their most recent, and possibly most horrific, attempt at a money grab is to launch this app aimed at kids ages 8-17. The app starts with a seven-day free trial, but for kids to continue with their personalized coach, the monthly subscription fee starts at $69 a month. (The adult version of Weight Watchers online with coaching is $54.95/month)

Let’s look at some facts that are pertinent here:

  • 95% of those with eating disorders are between the ages of 12 and 25 (SAMHSA)
  • 40-60% of elementary school girls (ages 6-12) are concerned about their weight or about becoming overweight. This concern endures through life. (Smolak, 2011)
  • Among high-school students, 44% of females and 15% of males attempted to lose weight. (Serdula et al., 1993)
  • 35% of “normal dieters” progress to pathological dieting. Of those, 20-25% progress to partial or full-syndrome eating disorders. (Shisslak & Crago, 1995)
  • Over one-half of teenage girls and nearly one-third of teenage boys use unhealthy weight control behaviors (ex, skipping meals, fasting, smoking cigarettes, purging) (Neumark-Sztainer, 2005)
  • In a decade we saw a 119% increase in eating disorder hospitalizations in kids UNDER TWELVE.

Hence those, uh, warnings from eating disorder experts that made Weight Watchers reeeeaaaaallllyyyyy super very much extra excited to do this.

Maybe (in a perfectly reasonable but entirely misguided attempt to feel better about this) you’re thinking to yourself – I’m sure this isn’t about dieting, I’m sure they are just trying to encourage healthy behaviors.

Well, think again, here’s a screenshot that a blog reader sent to me:

Weight Watchers Kids
[TEXT:
How do I plan for red light foods?

“I know there will be red light foods at my friend’s birthday party on Saturday.”

E.g. of  3-step game plan

1. Wake up early to workout (60 minutes minimum)

2. Aim to consume no red light foods until you arrive at the party.

3. Decide how many red lights you reasonably want to budget for the party ahead of time.

Tip 4: remember 3 servings of a yellow ligt food = 1 red. ]

 

 

Before we break this down, I think it’s important to note that Weight Watchers doesn’t have any evidence that any of this will make or keep kids thin. There are no studies that show any method of eating and exercising that predicts thin kids, research from the University of Minnesota found that “None of the behaviors being used by adolescents (in 1999) for weight-control purposes predicted weight loss[in 2006]…Of greater concern were the negative outcomes associated with dieting and the use of unhealthful weight-control behaviors.” Even the thoroughly-steeped-in-fatphobia American Academy of Pediatrics advised doctors and parents to avoid conversations about weight and focus on being healthy instead.

I also think it’s important to point out that the target ages of the app also include the typical ages of puberty, during which an average weight gain of 40 to 60 pounds is expected. Scenario: a kid who has been trying to manipulate their weight with this app for five years – since they were 8 years old – experiences sudden weight gain. I’m sure that won’t cause any problems at all, right? (Sarcasm meter is an 11 out of 10 here.)

Ok, so let’s talk about this absolute disaster, starting with the fact that Weight Watchers thinks third graders should be making three-step plans to attend birthday parties.

The app divides foods up into “stop-light” categories of green (“Go!”), yellow (“Slow Down!”) and red (“STOP and Think!”) (Exclamation points and capitalization strategy are verbatim from Kurbo which, as you probably already guessed, I will not be linking to.)

Dividing food into categories like this is a red flag for disordered eating, but it’s pretty clear at this point that Weight Watchers doesn’t care. It’s also an issue for kids who are food insecure and other kids who may have limited options for what to eat for whom just getting enough nutrition to survive can be an issue. (Let’s remember that most kids are not in charge of the foods to which they have access.)

Note that step 1 of the plan says to workout for “60 minutes MINIMUM” (emphasis mine) So, again, we’re telling 8-year-olds that in order to eat some cake at a birthday party, they must earn the right through exercise of at least an hour. This is a three-fer of harm:

  1. It creates the belief that one has to earn the right to eat through movement which is, you guessed it,  a red flag for disordered eating.
  2. It creates a “never enough” belief around exercise. Suggesting that kids as young as 8 should lose sleep to force themselves through an hour or more of exercise that is not by choice or for fun is ludicrous.
  3. It sets kids up to see exercise as prevention of and/or punishment for not being thin, which gives them an excellent chance of learning to resent movement and exercise – especially since kids come in lots of sizes, and this app will never change that.

Which brings us to a fact that should be obvious – the app will harm every kid who uses it and every kid who knows about it,  but it will do the most harm to fat kids (who are already trying to navigate a fatphobic world) both because it will be another tool to marginalize them, and because they are unlikely to change their body size so it will be seen as another alleged “failure” to attain thinness, which never should have been a goal in the first place.

The marketing for the app includes “before and after” photos of children, so that if kids aren’t sure what kind of bodies they should hate (be it their own body, or other kids) they can check the before pictures to make sure.

I’m already hearing stories from blog readers about parents who are actually bribing their kids to use the app with, for example, a phone. Which tells fat kids that in order to “deserve” what everyone else has – the ability to connect and communicate with their social network (which actually IS tied to health,) they first need to be thin, or at least commit to trying to be. That’s a lesson that will continue to harm them for the rest of their lives if they internalize it.

I’ve been doing this work for over a decade and have heard hundreds, if not thousands, of stories of people whose lives have been harmed by Weight Watchers. And now they want us to hand them our kids. Say no. Fight Back. Teach your kids that the world is messed up, they are fine.

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14 thoughts on “Weight Watchers Is Harming Kids For Money

  1. “Kurbo”?? Really? Even the name is offensive. As in, curb your fatness, fatso. How I hate them, more so every day.

  2. I can’t even express how angry this makes me. Weight Watchers was the first commercial diet I was ever put on and it taught me the foundations of my decades-long eating disorder, from weighing foods to weighing myself to associating moral labels to food and myself, based on what I ate or what I wanted to eat. My 74 year old mother STILL talks about “cheating” and “being good” depending on what she eats. It makes me seethe to see this and to know that there are likely droves of “concerned” parents who will enroll their kids in this awful program, thinking they’re doing them a favour.

  3. This is a casual observation from having read a lot of accounts of eating disorders. It seems to me that they generally start with efforts at weight control when fairly young, maybe under 16, and surprisingly, at least to me, it doesn’t seem to matter whether the diet is self-chosen or imposed. This may prove less than I suspect if a very high proportion of young people are dieting.

  4. This makes me so, so angry just like all the other commenters. I feel like I need to do something to cool off my boiling blood! I thought I’d go to the app in the app store and read the reviews, hoping there were people like me who would go and write a scathing review, but the reviews are overwhelmingly positive! It’s disturbing. The ones that are supposedly written by users (meaning children) are, no offense to kids, very well-written, making me think they are being written by parents or are fake reviews intended to promote this devastatingly harmful app. I don’t know wha to do!

    I followed in my mom’s footsteps and did Weight Watchers on multiple occasions, starting in my teens or early 20s and again in my mid-20s and, while I no longer diet, I still have that propaganda in my head at times. I cannot fathom having this available to me at 8, 11, or 13 years old – so, so problematic.

    Grrr….

  5. …I mean, why shell out $69 a month when you can get the same advice for free from a pro-ana blog…?

    As if kids didn’t have enough to deal with.

  6. Here’s another disgusting, misleading group- and clicking on the link in the article to Weight of the World will definitely piss you off even more. Clever marketing, same old fat shaming

    Sent from my iPhone

  7. Pretty good example of a superlative way to make money. Targeted, defenseless audience, glossy duping with hopeful, exalted aftercomes, willing collusion by immediate family-friends-society, failure + blame-proof system of consumer guilt and biologically guaranteed repeat procedure customer base, for LIFE. No wonder they get rich. How long till they are called out for the evil scam they are? For Ever, in the body as a moral debate-fat-loathing society we live in. If you don’t win, you’re a loser and it is all your fault.
    God help the poor victims to come. Clearly no one else will.
    Who ARE these people? How do they live with themselves?

  8. Hi Ragen! This news doesn’t surprise me at all, but it does give me a good case of nausea. I was so surprised the meeting I went to was okay with having a 13 year old member, since I know now that dieting during puberty messed up my system. Dieting at that age was a recommendation of a misguided pediatrician. I can’t blame it for my hypothyroidism, but who knows?

    But children below puberty? Unfortunately I’ve been aware that kids that young have issues with their bodies, but now Weight Watchers is taking advantage of that insecurity? Gah. As I noted, I’m not surprised!

    Again, thank you for all that you do! You’re an inspiration.

    Sending thanks and hugs,

    Jill

    Sent from my iPad

    >

  9. What is even worse, my family practice doctor’s dietitian is actively pushing this for all kids who’s BMI is out side of the “normal range”. My insurance will pick up the subscription costs plus meeting with the dietitian for 6 months.

    WW is crazy like a fox. Doctors terrorize you how unhealthy you are based solely on the scale, people will try it if the insurance picks up the tab.

    The apps that scare me are the IF ones, that puts a big count down clock on your phones desktop. You can watch your 48 hours tick away, and show your friends how “good” you are being. Those are the rage at my niece’s high school.

    Keep fighting the good fight!

  10. As someone who struggled with weight the most when I was 8, this is personal. My heart just goes out to anyone who’s that young and feels the same way about their bodies as I did when I was that young.

  11. Kurbo users are supposed to check off the reasons for wanting to lose weight, and one of the options is “I want to please my parents.” What are we doing to our children????

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