Over the years, childhood obesity has been an epidemic of growing concern. According to the CDC, the prevalence of obesity in children and adolescents (ages 2-19) was 18.5%, affecting approximately 13.7 million individuals in the US.
Many programs hope to combat the rise of obesity in America, including Kurbo, a new app developed by WW (formerly Weight Watchers). The app has been widely criticized for potentially creating unhealthy mindsets for its users.
Originally developed in 2014, Kurbo was bought by WW and re-released in 2019. It is specifically designed for children and teens aged 8-17. Its system imitates the design of Stanford’s Pediatric Weight Control program, which classifies foods in colored groups based on a stoplight. Foods marked green can be eaten in large quantities, yellow light foods should have controlled portions, and red light foods should be eaten rarely.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) supported a similar Stanford program that Kurbo emulates. However, because of its different platform and recent entrance to the market, the app may not be as effective as its Stanford counterpart.
As a matter of fact, many have criticized Kurbo for its potential for adverse mental health effects. It specifically targets an incredibly impressionable audience including children as young as eight. Critics of the app claim that dieting at such a young age creates an unhealthy relationship with food, one that may persist throughout adulthood.
“The problem with tracking foods, as Kurbo has its users do, is that it can become an obsession and result in control-driven behaviors that can lead to eating disorders,” dietician Sheri Kasper said.
WW has defended its app, saying that it stands as an effective and healthy weight loss tool.
“[Kurbo is] a simple way to teach kids a healthy pattern of eating,” WW’s chief science officer, Gary Foster, said. “Everything that’s in the app is science-based. It’s not about dieting. It’s not about calorie counting. It’s not about restrictions. This is not a diet that says get rid of red foods, only eat green foods.”
Being mindful of what you eat isn’t inherently bad. The rising number of obese children in the nation and nations abroad continues to increase, so it’s clear something needs to be done. However, the goal of weight loss should be to improve your health, both physically and mentally. Creating a restrictive dietary system for incredibly impressionable children may have unintended effects. It’s important to develop a healthy mindset and habits while young, but all things must come in moderation.
Rather than obsessing over diets, programs should seek to help promote overall healthy lifestyles and provide the necessary support for individuals enrolled in them.