This crucial moment in the early days of the fat acceptance movement often garners scant mention in the historical record.
We are horrified to see that Weight Watchers (don’t be fooled by the WW name) has launched an app called Kurbo to teach kids 8-17 how to diet to become customers for life. This app, while they say supports “healthy habits”, actually supports caloric restriction for children, teaches mechanistic thinking about food and bodies, and upholds weight stigma. Kurbo is not an answer to concerns about children’s bodies or eating habits. This will lead to more eating disorders and is a giant step backwards.
*We understand that information about this dieting app may be triggering to many of you. This post contains images of the app and a quote from a child in the program with mention of weight loss. We invite you to care for yourself first and stop reading here if that is best for you. Your healing process is valuable and good for the world.
Fat kids don’t need adults to teach them weight loss techniques. They need to know they are already whole and not a cautionary tale. They need unconditional positive regard, fat affirmation, fat community, and strong allies. They need adults aligned against weight-based bullying and stigmatization. This app connects kids with adult coaches whose role is conditional, temporary, and contingent on the child’s performance of weight management. This makes us feel ill.
Programs that teach “healthy lifestyles” to kids and families are still reinforcing a culturally sanctioned dieting mind that can lead to a lifetime of body hatred and disordered eating. “Healthy lifestyles” have never, and will never, include hustling, hypervigilance, or body surveillance.
In fact, kids come into the world with expressive appetites and bodies destined to feel, experience pleasure, dine, and experiment with food. You came into the world this way too. Bodies come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Some kids will be thin and some will be fat. Their bodies deserve our respect and trust.
Well-being is rooted in trust and respect.
Diet and wellness culture, along with the weight loss and cosmetic fitness industries, have taught us to believe we need control and discipline to manage food, appetite and the body. In fact, this is exactly what WW is banking on; you are more likely to trust their app than yourself or your child’s body.
We understand it is hard to know what to trust when you have been socialized into diet culture. Diet culture would like you to believe that your body signals are untrustworthy, that having an appetite means you are out of control, that your body can be easily overtaken by allergens and chemicals, and that you need complex nutrition knowledge to eat well. Does this not reek more of manipulation and industry than truth?
Despite our fears, we must protect children from the weight loss industry. If you are a parent, WW wants to capitalize on your fear and sense of responsibility to introduce your children to “responsible” weight control. They want to help you do it in a “compassionate” way. Don’t fall for it.
The National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) has issued a statement warning parents about the dangers of this app. The statement mentions many concerns including:
- The app relies on self-reporting and there is no screening to determine whether a child is at risk for or suffering from an eating disorder (anorexia, atypical anorexia, bulimia, binge eating disorder, and other eating disorders) before they are provided access to the meal tracking features of the app.
- Children at the ages targeted by the app are preparing to enter puberty and are supposed to be growing. Specifically, they are supposed to gain fat. Interrupting the growth process, especially at such a critical time of development, is irresponsible. Indeed, there is evidence it can cause irreparable harm.
- In a large study of 14- and 15-year-olds, dieting was the most important predictor of developing an eating disorder. Those who dieted moderately were five times more likely to develop an eating disorder, and those who practiced extreme restriction were 18 times more likely to develop an eating disorder than those who did not diet.
It is not possible to help someone overcome weight stigma by delivering a weight-based intervention, no matter how “compassionate” you are.
We also want you to know that in 2016, The American Academy of Pediatrics recommended not putting children on diets or talking to kids about weight, acknowledging how doing so increases risk of eating disorders and body shame. WW has bypassed this sound recommendation and relies upon the Traffic Light Diet in this new app. This article explains how the traffic light diet has three mandates:
- Eat a core of 900 calories a day
- Do not exceed 1200-1500 calories a day
- Do not eat more than 4 “red” (i.e. bad foods) per week
Our colleague, Rebecca Scritchfield, downloaded the app and took some photos. Here are what the app calls “yellow” foods (i.e., use caution). Note: Rebecca added some captions in black.
The new Kurbo app depicts movement with an image of a sweating raisin on a hamster wheel chasing a carrot (above).
This is sad, uninspired, and stigmatizing, and is the opposite of pleasurable play and embodiment. Children are born to play! There isn’t a child in the world who would benefit from thinking about movement this way. This is, in fact, what the dieting mind sounds like:
- Thinking of foods, or a day of eating, as good or bad.
- Finding a way to make up for what we believe are our “mistakes” in eating.
- Choosing activities to burn the most calories instead of ones that connect us to pleasure and joy.
Rebecca also shared a picture of a quote she came across while using the app. These are the kinds of messages kids will be exposed to…
“Since I started Kurbo, I exercise for at least one hour a day.”
– Alexis, Nine Years Old, Lost 12 pounds
She’s NINE years old!!!
One of the big questions you might have is why would they do this? Why do they believe this is okay?
First, we know WW has been losing money (Oprah’s lost millions). They are part of a giant failed weight-loss paradigm. Kurbo is rooted in the same failed paradigm. WW sees dollar signs when they see larger bodied children.
Second, many health care providers and helping professionals don’t believe they are promoting dieting, they think they are promoting “healthy lifestyles”. Why? Because our training is rooted in weight bias and the traditional weight paradigm. Kurbo consulted with many, many weight loss “experts” and eating disorder “specialists” (sell-outs) who are desperately trying to revive and profit from a failed paradigm. People cannot let this go because of institutional narcissism and fatphobia.
WW would like you to believe Kurbo has somehow cracked the code and invented a new effective program. They have not. This is a mousetrap. How can we be certain? There has been 40+ years of these mousetraps (diets, lifestyle changes, etc) and they have never managed to circumvent the nature of the pesky, unsustainable dieting mind or the harm that anti-fat bias causes in the bodies of people trying to lose weight.
When the most consistent effect of weight loss at two years is weight gain (Mann et al. 2007), how is this program going to be any different? We want to see the five year outcome data. Because otherwise WW looks like a dying industry interested in priming kids to become lifetime customers, just like Big Tobacco.
We cannot build an effective sustainable plan when it is rooted in shame and self-blame in a child or an adult. It will never stick. Well… let us correct that. It will stick in their soul, it will deflate their spirits, it will disembody their relationship with food, it will seed a lifetime of body hate. But under these conditions it will never produce wellness, well-being or “health”.
We hope you feel ready to strongly oppose Kurbo. Here are a few more resources to help you turn away from diet culture with your loved ones.
→Body Trust® is a Birthright (TEDx Talk)
We have sat with 1000’s of people who are working to reclaim Body Trust® after years of dieting and disordered eating that often began in childhood. We know healing is possible. We also believe we can change this in a generation if we divest from the diet culture and the weight loss industry.
We have heard so many of your stories about dieting at a young age. We know that for many of you, this resulted in a lifetime of chronic dieting, weight cycling, and disordered eating. These stories are important and are rarely heard and understood in mainstream culture. This needs to change. Too many people have been harmed by early dieting before they were old enough to consent. We would like to invite you to share your stories here or you may email them to email@example.com. We will compile them all to demonstrate how common and harmful dieting in childhood and adolescence can be.
SHARE YOUR BODY STORY
We have heard so many of your stories about dieting at a young age. We know that for many of you, this resulted in a lifetime of chronic dieting, weight cycling, and disordered eating. These stories are important and are rarely heard and understood in mainstream culture. This needs to change. Too many people have been harmed by early dieting before they were old enough to consent. We would like to invite you to share your story by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We will compile them all to demonstrate how common and harmful dieting in childhood and adolescence can be.