WW Just Released A Weight Loss App For Kids. What Could Go Wrong? | HuffPost Life

“This is a TERRIBLE idea,” Kristy, a mother of an 11-year-old girl who is recovering from anorexia and over-exercising, wrote in an email to HuffPost. (She asked that only her first name be used to protect her daughter’s privacy.)

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Although Kristy has no direct experience with Kurbo, she said she has seen how technology marketed to promote “healthy” behaviors can fuel unhealthy ones in children struggling with body image issues. Her daughter used a fitness tracker to obsessively log how many calories she burned in a day. “I was shocked at how she used it,” Kristy said.

The app is free, but WW also offers subscription-based plans for one-on-one sessions with coaches said to be experts in nutrition, exercise, and mental health. (The company does not have a set threshold for credentialing, though coaches do go through a minimum of six to eight hours of initial training, as well as three and a half hours of continuing education, a spokesperson for WW told HuffPost.)

“I think there could be some misperception that somehow we’re saying, ‘All kids should lose weight, you’re not OK as you are,’” he added. “What we’re saying to kids who are trying to achieve a healthier weight — kids and families — is that this is a reasonable, sensible way to do it.” Achieving a “healthier weight” is very different for children and adults, he said, because children are constantly growing.

At the same time, public health experts have identified childhood obesity as a major concern. According to current national estimates, roughly one in five children in the United States are obese, which can increase their risk for immediate health complications, like Type 2 diabetes, as well as longer term problems, like cardiovascular disease.

“The evidence suggests that these types of tools may be helpful adjuncts to weight management, but there are few studies in pediatrics to confirm that they lead to a ‘meaningful change in their weight trajectories,’” Dr. Ihuoma Eneli, director of the Center for Healthy Weight and Nutrition at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, told HuffPost. She said it is also unclear how well kids adhere to these types of programs, pointing to a small pilot study of the app that showed fairly low compliance.

For all of Kurbo by WW’s marketing around its “holistic” approach to health, many parents and advocates worry the only message kids will hear is that there is something about them that is wrong and that needs to change. The “success stories” on Kurbo’s landing page highlight how many pounds children lost, not, say, how many minutes a day they now meditate. WW’s decades-long legacy as a weight loss company is hard to shake.

This content was originally published here.

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