“That way lies madness.” - Ron Swanson, Parks and Rec
Diet culture is powered through the encouragement of sizeism, and diet pills and extreme weight-loss tactics contribute to its danger. So, when children and teens are offered a weight-loss program that is supposed to form healthier eating habits, I believe that diet culture is strengthened.
In August, Weight Watchers, now rebranded as WW, released a weight-loss and wellness program for teens called Kurbo. A lot of eyebrows were immediately raised due to what many people, especially moms, viewed as the encouragement of unhealthy eating behaviors and disordered eating.
Gary Foster, chief scientific officer at WW, told HuffPost that Kurbo “isn’t a weight-loss app,” but rather a program that encourages wellness. Despite the fact that the program shares “member stories” where children as young as 10 talk about their weight-loss journeys and the pounds they’ve lost.
I may not be an expert on the behavioral studies of children or a health and wellness expert in general, but I am a teen. If my parents urged me to download the Kurbo app, I would probably begin to believe that there is something wrong with the way I look and the way I view food.
I can recall my parents using the first Weight Watchers program when I was younger. I can still picture them creating meals based on the points system and saving up points for less healthy food or drink choices. I didn’t think much of it then because it’s normal for parents to attempt to lose weight through these types of programs.
However, when we’re children, food should simply be food. I often used to eat a chocolate chip cookie after school, but according to Kurbo, this cookie would be categorized as “red”—desserts and sugary drinks. The app suggests to “just stop and think how to budget them in with everything else.”
Screenshots from Kurbo by WW and courtesy of Time.
The layout of the Kurbo app utilizes what they call a “stoplight system” that looks at the degrees of healthiness of certain foods.
There are two main red flags that I view with this program:
- I believe that if children and teens actually need assistance with healthier eating patterns, they should not be aided by an app where the entire goal seemingly is weight loss.
- I do not think that children and teens should be trained to focus on weight loss, which I think Kurbo has the ability to do.
Kurbo also allows us, as a culture, to take a closer look at dieting. I think that apps and programs like this one contribute to diet culture, which influences and shapes how we view and reject people because of their body type.
As Ragen Chastain of the National Eating Disorder Association wrote, “There are healthy and unhealthy people of every shape and size...adding healthism to sizeism is not a good look.”
The Kurbo program and diet culture connect through sizeism. Sizeism, prejudice and/or discrimination against someone based on a person’s size, is the basis of diet culture.
Since children and teens are constantly growing and changing, they do not have much control over their size—and especially their shape. The danger lies within weight-loss programs encouraging a specific relationship with food that is supposed to change a child’s shape and size.
The Kurbo app markets itself as using scientific research that proves it’s safe for weight loss.
I believe it is more important to be concerned with the emotional and psychological development of children and teens when it comes to their relationships with food, rather than simply weight loss.
I think that we should encourage the importance of having healthy relationships with food from a young age. We shouldn’t just say what’s right or wrong to eat—we need to influence children to see past diet culture and into a world that supports how all of us look. That, in turn, will motivate and strengthen positive relationships with food.
I believe that this is a lot more doable than it may seem. But the first step is not allowing programs like Kurbo to persuade children and teens to view health and wellness only as weight loss.