NEW YORK, United States — WW (formally Weight Watchers) has introduced a new weight-loss and nutrition app; Kurbo by WW, aimed at kids as young as eight, sparking widespread controversy and criticism.
Acquired for $3 million by WW back in 2018, the behaviour change program, designed to help kids and teens reach a healthier weight, uses virtual coaching to encourage positive lifestyle changes, as well as offering guidance around sustainable healthy eating, physical activity and mindfulness habits.
Critics, however, have expressed their concern that what they believe to essentially be a dieting app for children will only lead to the cultivation of negative relationships with food.
“Are we kidding? Breeding obsession with weight and calories and food at the age of…8?” Tweeted Actor and body neutrality activist Jameela Jamil.
Nutritionist and influencer Rhiannon Lambert also expressed her disgust writing:
“Parents, I’m pleading with you not to put your children on a diet. Our children deserve to be loved and fully immersed in our world unencumbered by body shame and any thoughts of dieting. I really believe that the true cost of WW’s weight-loss app for children isn’t $69/month, it’s a lifetime battle with disordered eating and poor body image.”
Originally launched by founder Joanna Strober in 2014, Kurbo Health was conceived as a method of encouraging children to adopt healthier eating patterns, without parents having to take on the role of the ‘food police’.
Swapping metrics such as calories, sugars, carbs and fat for a red, yellow and green traffic light system — a method backed by 30 years of evidence-based scientific research — the simple approach was based on teaching children and parents how to make healthier eating choices rather than designating certain foods as off-limits.
Now under the WW umbrella, the app follows a similar structure, albeit with a more holistic approach to wellness, such as additional meditation tools, recipe videos and educational games. However, users can now track measurements and set goals like ‘lose weight’, which has raised further debate.
Despite the growing unrest, WW remains staunch in its opinion that the app can be trusted “to inspire healthy habits for real life, for everyone.”
“To change the health trajectory of the world, we have a tremendous opportunity, but also a responsibility, to help kids, teens and families,” commented Mindy Grossman, President and CEO at WW.
“Alongside a distinguished group of leaders in pediatric health and nutrition, we’ve carefully developed this platform to be holistic, rewarding and inspirational so kids, teens and families get the tools and guidance they need to manage their environment and build and sustain healthy habits,” added Gary Foster, PhD, Chief Scientific Officer at WW.
But having only recently pivoted to a wellness company from a diet brand, after a period of poor sales, the negative connotations associated with a business entrenched in diet culture are sure to only add further fuel to the fire.
With a goal of hitting $2 billion in revenue by 2020, it remains to be seen if this latest controversy will impact WW’s bottom line. Either way, it’s unlikely the brand will back down.
Just last year it caused a similar uproar after announcing a free weight-loss program for teenagers — a contention Grossman told Time only assisted in strengthening its resolve.