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.
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.
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.
We’re excited to introduce @KurboHealth, a science-backed tool uniquely designed for kids and teens who want to improve their eating habits and get more active. Find out more at https://t.co/1hvFKOWAGd! #WellnessThatWorks pic.twitter.com/a5SLVS5wtk
— WW (formerly Weight Watchers) (@ww_us) August 13, 2019
Written 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