Weight Watcher’s, or WW as they are now called, have a new weight loss app called Kurbo for children as young as 8 years old.
Let that sink in completely.
8. Years. Old.
Let me start this by saying I’m not a medical professional or a licensed professional of any sort, but I’ve done an immense amount of research on weight loss and have been struggling with my weight for pretty much my entire life. All of this research, books, podcasts, and other such resources I’ve engaged with have given me somewhat of an encyclopedic knowledge on the subject (though I’d never pretend to have all the answers, or that I have a professional education). All of this makes me absolutely certain that this app is a terrible idea.
Look, nobody wants to hear how to raise their children, and that isn’t exactly what I’m here to do. I want to do my part to raise awareness about why this is a bad idea. After all, on its face the idea that we want to help combat the immense problem of childhood obesity, and obesity in general, that we as a country struggle with seems admirable. As a parent it is your job to help protect and guide your child, and seeing them above weight during a doctor’s visit or starting to pack on the pounds can be alarming.
But if you’ve never read or paid attention to anything else I’ve ever written, please listen to this—this is not the way to help your child with their weight.
First off let’s discuss the fact that the numbers in the doctor office are often wildly outdated, and the idea of the BMI chart is still skewed horribly wrong with archaic data. BMI was originally intended as a data gathering tool alone, and even its creator was clear that it wasn’t accurate in showing body fat or overall health. It doesn’t take into account lean muscle mass, fluids, or tissue, and it doesn’t really indicate health risk or factors. In addition these arbitrary rulings of BMI numbers that say we are normal, overweight, obese, or clinically obese are based on standardized numbers that are outdated in general. On top of that your child’s BMI is likely to be higher during puberty, with female’s often gaining 10% on their BMI in order to go through the process of maturing.
So right off the bat the idea of what is normal is skewed. I’m 5’ 6” and have always been built wider across the shoulders, with a great deal of muscle mass in my chest, shoulders, and legs. In general–even when I was in the best shape of my life at 12% body fat–my BMI still told me for my height and size that I was overweight, teetering on obese. There are professional athletes and Olympians who are considered overweight or obese when relying on these guidelines—some of the most fit people on the planet–so what in the world makes us think that these numbers should be applicable to our children?
On top of that children tend to gain weight and become chubbier just before shooting throw a growth spurt, evening out the distribution of their weight and bringing them more in line with these unrealistic numbers. So even following that data the asked rate of weight loss is wrong, because the child hasn’t stopped growing and the weight they are gaining currently likely isn’t permanent. As they continue to grow and mature their muscle mass will fill in, their metabolism will change, and they will likely lose the residual chubbiness.
“But Daniel”, you might be saying, “regardless of BMI, I can still tell my child is gaining weight and I’m trying to help them, what else can I do? This app seems like a great idea, after all WW worked for me in the past.”
There is a fundamental flaw with Kurbo, and that is that children under the age of 8 simply do not have the cognitive maturity to make these sort of decisions about their bodies and juggle the complexities of dieting for weight loss. Even if your child is mature for their age or intelligent they haven’t been alive long enough to consider the long term ramifications or social pressures that come with something like dieting. This decision is something they have to make when they are old enough to consider all posibilities, which isn’t before the age of 18, and even then it is something that needs to be considered and approached with care.
All of our children struggle with identity and fitting in, but girls especially have to deal with an unfair beauty standard that permeates our culture. They are pushed from an early age to feel like they need to be skinny to be pretty, that in order to be loved and accepted they have to fit into a size 2 or below. I’ve listened to countless interviews on the show Half Size Me and almost every single woman on the show has the same story in their past—a parent, doctor, or peers pushed them to lose weight, beginning a life-long struggle with body image. Before something was said to them they didn’t even feel something was wrong with their body, but at this point they’ve decided that they have to “fix” themselves and it often leads to struggles with body dysmorphia, binging and purging, eating disorders, or constantly struggling with the yo-yo fad dieting establishment intent on keeping you fat to fuel their multi-million dollar industry.
This app takes that to a new level, asking children to essentially count calories and labels foods to be good or bad and allows parent to further put limits on how the app functions. It shows a child other kids that have lost weight with the app or on the program, essentially labeling these kids as good and the bigger “before” kids as bad. Thus these fit, and often good looking kids, are the “better” version. It is a misguided and disgusting attempt at helping children that is really just WW trying their best to monetize a previously inaccessible market.
Children have so much pressure on them growing up and so many social landmines they already have to navigate that we don’t need to have them struggling with the idea of their weight as well. We need to let our children be children, teach them that they are worth love regardless of their size, and not force the construct of dieting on them at an early age. It has been proven, both anecdotally and scientifically, time after time, that dieting does not work over the long term and that starting diets at a young age can have long term detrimental effects on a child—both psychologically and physically.
So what can be done? I don’t have all the answers, and I know from experience that it feels as a parent you can never make the right choices, but I can tell you that we have to take a stand against this Kurbo app–especially if you have children who are female. Personally I’ve signed a petition in order to make it clear to WW that we don’t support this app, but we can also vote with our wallets by not exposing our children to this app.
The way to help your child isn’t to make them cognitive of their weight at a young age, it is to lead by example. Don’t show them what foods are good vs. bad, but show them what a healthier choice looks like. Limit sugary drinks and calorie heavy treats by not having them in the house, even if you have to go without them as a by-product. Notice I said limit, you don’t have to take away their treats entirely, but make it clear these are fun foods or treats that we don’t have all the time because they are special. Guide them to make better choices with their food, not because of calories or because this candy bar will make us fat, but because it makes our body feel good. Make it clear in no uncertain terms to grandparents or anyone else that talking about your child’s body in a negative manner won’t be tolerated, and that they shouldn’t be coached on weight until they are over the age of 18.
I’ve not been perfect in this, I’ve made off-handed comments to my son before that I’ve later realized might be harmful or hurtful, and we’ve had candid conversations about it. After all this research I’ve been far more aware (thank goodness) on how to treat and talk to my daughter about her body. Recently she has started gaining a little weight, usually just before a growth spurt, and this morning she described her svelte body with a tiny bump as “chubby”—it broke my heart. My daughter is seven, she shouldn’t be looking at her body in a mirror and finding something there to dislike, she should be playing with toys and running with friends without having to worry what her belly looks like.
We all need to be better though, we owe it to our children to lead them into a world that is just a little better off for people who struggle with weight and make unfair beauty standards a thing of the past. Apps and initiatives like Kurbo are actively harmful to children and should be avoided at all costs, along with pressuring your child about their weight. I’m not a person that is coming from a place of fat is beauty, and that we should worship our bodies at all sizes—I understand the necessity of not being morbidly obese. After all, I am here running a blog that is centered around me losing weight, but that is only because I need to do so in order to be around for my children and significantly lower a number of health issues I have that are prevalent because of my weight. That doesn’t mean that weight loss, that skinny, equals being healthy or pretty—because we know that to be untrue.
Our children have a lifetime to worry about their bodies, to focus on the micro/macro of nutrition, and a gauntlet of abuse from peers an society to get through as is. Let’s not add to it by putting them on an app that tells them that they aren’t good enough until they are small, or creates long term issues for them. Diet’s aren’t for children, regardless of size, period. Teach them about long term, sustainable healthy choices, help guide them and lead by example–that is the way we lead our children to a healthier tomorrow.
And that is all we really want, for our kids to be healthy and happy, right? Kurbo is the worst way to make that happen. Please don’t put your children on this app, and let WW know that it isn’t something that we as a society are ok with.
If you, a loved one, or your child are struggling with an eating disorder you don’t have to struggle alone–help is just a phone call or click away. Please reach out to the National Eating Disorders Association hotline at 800-931-2237 or visit their webpage for assistance or guidance with this harmful issue.