Dangers of Health Apps for Kids

Weight Watchers have introduced a new app called KurboHealth aimed at kids and teens. Is it a helpful tool to tackle childhood obesity or a dangerous step toward an unhealthy relationship with food?

Recently WW (formerly known as Weight Watchers) re-launched an app called Kurbo that has been marketed for kids aged 8 – 17 years old. The app has had a year of further development since it was acquired by WW in 2018. Kurbo allows kids to enter their height, weight, age and their health goals. It lets them log what they are eating with a traffic light system – so green foods are fine to eat anytime (fruit and veg), amber foods are ones you should limit (dairy, protein, whole grains) and red foods you should avoid (those salty, sugary reward-centre fulfilling, junk foods). It has a snapchat-like feel and encourages regular activity via ‘streaks’. For most app savvy adults, we’ll be aware of these types of apps and may have even used them ourselves.

WW has been facing some backlash regarding their app, which is unsurprising. While they are trying to rebrand to a more health-focussed model, they still are pretty focussed on weight. WW is not the only group creating these health style apps for kids though. It only takes a quick trip to the Google Playstore to find multiple exercise and food apps aimed at kids.

Body shaming

Childhood obesity is a problem, we can’t deny that. But you have to ask yourself, do kids as young as eight years old, whether they are obese or not, need to be exposed to negativity around food? There’s a lot of concern that this app could drive kids towards a future of eating disorders and bad food relationships.

Of course, some could say that kids are exposed to plenty of body image language and visuals via social media, magazines and even their own parents’ hang-ups (guilty as charged). One app is not necessarily going to destroy a child. But an app in addition to everything else, especially if it’s coming from home could be very damaging. Fat-shaming seems to have become the last ‘acceptable’ bigotry, and kids are watching us adults online and at home.

Health scare

I had a little health scare at the start of the year. Nothing too serious, but it was enough to make me re-evaluate my relationship with food. To say I have had an unhealthy relationship with dieting would be accurate. As a kid I started to diet when I hit Intermediate School. I remember my ‘baby fat’ being mentioned to me. I exercised like mad in my room and cut my food intake back extensively. I felt the warmth of praise when I lost weight, and the shame and anguish when I couldn’t stop eating chips or biscuits.

Eventually I broke away from that thinking and decided to just be. Sad to say that this break away from dieting took me all too long and then I really did go in the total opposite direction not restricting myself in anyway. I wasn’t too worried about what I looked like. I fully embraced the idea that I shouldn’t have to shrink to fit, that I didn’t have to be pretty or acceptable-looking, to be here. And I was happy with that.

But then the health scare happened. My husband and I did a bit of research about food. So many of our friends are doing sugar-free, or carb-free, raw foods or Keto. The thing that didn’t sit right for us, was the removal of whole groups of food. Having kids in the house, also made us hyper-aware that they are watching everything we do.

Beginning a new journey

So, the journey began. After some weeks of wanting to eat in a more mindful way, but not really knowing what approach to take, we landed on using an app to help us count calories. This helped us as adults make better choices. We tried not to make the change a big deal at home, tried to not even discuss it in front of the kids. But of course it only took a month or so for both of my daughters to start asking.

I had a seven year old weighing herself and exclaiming “fat!” I had my frankly underweight 12 year old worrying that she was eating too much. Can you even imagine if they had access to a phone with a ‘health’ app on it? They are just too young to be making the same mindful decisions about food that we as adults can navigate. They don’t understand fuel in and fuel out. Even a word like carbs can confuse them – there are carbs in a lot of things including vegetables and kids need carbs!

Thankfully, we have been able to frame the conversation for them. We reassured them that they need lots of yummy food because they have growing bodies. We reminded them that their bodies are built to use the food they eat, to help them ride flying foxes, run cross countries and kick soccer balls. We focussed on the functional body rather than its form.

I’m mindful we’ll need to monitor the conversations about weight and worth very closely in future. A few weeks ago, my eldest said to me, “Wow, you are getting so skinny, Mum. That must feel really good”. I was taken aback, and said, “Oh, but darling that is not why I’m doing this. I don’t care about being skinny. I have always been beautiful.” She nodded enthusiastically, and I continued, “I care about being well and fit and hanging out with you guys for as long as possible”.

My relationship with food still continues to be an issue. I have to constantly tell myself food isn’t bad or good. Everything I ‘learnt’ at 10 years old about my value and my size is still messing with my head. And as for my girls, I think if they had been exposed to a food tracking app designed for them, we could easily be well on the way to restrictive dieting and a lifetime of seeing their value only in a dress size. Whether I like it or not, I’m living that, and I don’t want that for them, or any child. It’s a cycle I’m very keen to break.

kymmageWritten by Kym Moore

When she isn’t herding kids or cats, Kym loves to drink craft beer, or share a whine and a wine with friends. She is also partial to a well-made cocktail. Her happy places include sitting on couch watching British Comedy and daydreaming. Lots of daydreaming.

Favourite artist: Bowie


  1. kymmage 01/09/2019 at 8:24 pm

    Yup, obviously I’m pretty anti the ol kids health app. I agree with everyone, kids shouldn’t be worrying about this nonsense at all. Neither of my kids are large. But if they were I would consult a doctor as gently as I could. And then I’d modify the food in the house, the snacks and increase the activities. I’d kick a ball around the back yard, go for a nature walk or something.

  2. candyjanenz 31/08/2019 at 5:43 pm

    Not that keen on an app for children as I think there can be so much pressure on children and teenagers,especially if they focus on weight. I think it would be better they learn how to cook easy food and meals from ingredients as that would be such a huge difference if home cooked food replaced takeaways especially for teenagers leaving home to go flatting.

  3. Alezandra 31/08/2019 at 12:32 am

    Calling it a health app seems like a lie in itself. They are basically knew how to target kids who are already obsessed with their phones. If apps are the way to encourage good way of eating for kids, it could’ve been an app that encourages it be turned off and tells you that you have to be away for hours and encourages you to walk or run or play outside till it can be turned on again. A food app of recipes of fun foods to eat but using healthier ingredients is also a good other option.

  4. Loucyd3 30/08/2019 at 11:13 pm

    I have never are even have thought that there would ever be a health app bought out for kids. This is terrible, kids already have so much to deal with these days with all the social media, they don’t need to be obsessed with their body image on top of that, this is asking for trouble. It all starts at home with us parents so set the right example when it comes to healthy eating give them healthy options, and get the kids outdoors going for bike rides playing sports, or hiking to get some healthy exercise in. Our kids don’t need these apps at such young ages.

  5. SarahBlair 30/08/2019 at 11:49 am

    No, no, no, no what are they thinking!?!?!? Why get kids obessessed with body image at such a young age!?!?! If kids are getting a bit chubby, take their device from them, give them a ball and send them outside, take them on a hike, go for a bike ride! Kids arent about to get in the car and drive to KFC, they eat what is available to them at home so give them healthier options and dont buy the crap!

  6. Bevik1971 27/08/2019 at 3:17 pm

    Hmmmm, my personal opinion is that I don’t like it or agree with an app like this for children. As parents we are in charge of the health and wellbeing of our kids until they reach an age where they can make their own decisions on what they put into their bodies, or move away from home (that age depends on the child and the parents). I just think there is enough social media and internet for kids around these days without adding yet another app or anything that helps the kids get onto the web. I like the way it’s called a “health” app, I don’t agree with them 🙁

  7. MuddledUpMolly 27/08/2019 at 2:03 pm

    I have never heard of health apps for children and it doesn’t sound like something I would be interested in for my children at all. It is scary that there is so much out there these days that is opening up scary new worlds for our vulnerable children.

  8. Jen_Wiig 23/08/2019 at 4:05 pm

    What an absolutely herroundous idea in my opinion. Kids should be eating everything in moderation and I mean everything’s… Chips, ice cream, apples, meat, bread, lollies, Yoghurt etc…. Where the heck has all this come from? When I grew up there was no such thing as Weightloss for kids and completely uncessary. I think an app would be way more dangerous than good and make the kid feel shamed, hopeless and possibly disgusted by themselves and that’s not good! Also where do the parents take some responsibility for it?? I know some kids have a pre disposition for being bigger but alot of it comes down to poor food choices and not getting active and as a parent that one’s is on us….
    I’m currently on a massive health and Weightloss journey as I know I’m unhealthy and very very Iver weight but like I’ve said to my kids this is my choice not one else’s and I’m doing it for me not because someone’s said I’m fat or anything… If any of my boys came to me wanting to lose weight I’d support them with their choice and get educated not rely ona bloody app to tell me.

  9. Mands1980 23/08/2019 at 2:02 pm

    I don’t think health apps are appropriate for children at all it definately does not send out a good message. Some children take things deferiently than others so those that are bigger may end up being the opposite. I think as a kids your parents just need to eat healthy by cooking meals then there should be no worries about health apps as I think kids these days are very sensitive to these things as well.

  10. Micht 23/08/2019 at 3:52 am

    I totally agree, they are too young to be burdened with the pressure of a diet… i think kids should remain as carefree as they need to be…they dont buy groceries, so we can help by not buying things they shouldnt eat and replacing with healthier alternatives..
    Also one thing to note is, when us as parents dont draw attention to things for ourselves and in front of them, they are like sponges and pick up on it and use it…the awareness cannot be removed , for example i switch up the bread i give my kids for lunch every now and again, sometimes ita brown, sometimes its white…but because no actually bothers they eat either…bread is bread.

  11. Shorrty4life1 22/08/2019 at 12:57 pm

    I myself don’t believe in health apps being aimed at children. Maybe an app to limit screen time and motivate fun ideas for outside play but I definitely don’t think any child should have to worry about their weight while being at a carefree age. I myself never worried about weight until I had my first child and had the mummy tummy etc I don’t think it should be focused on children. My daughter has already came to me and said mum ive got a fat tummy. Shes only 8 and stick skinny. Its sad how society takes it’s toll on young children.

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