Weight loss for kids? 

There’s an app for that — and there absolutely should not be. 

As unfortunate as it is, Weight Watchers launched an app called Kurbo on Tuesday designed to help children as young as 8 years old lose weight. Despite positive spins Weight Watchers put on the app in its press release, the organization has understandably received pounds of criticism. 

Through the app and virtual coaching, Weight Watchers said the scientifically proven behavior-change program will help children ages 8 to 17 make lifestyle changes by receiving guidance around sustainable healthy eating, physical activity and mindfulness habits. 

It works by using a traffic light system in which “green light” foods such as fruits and veggies are encouraged to eat more of at anytime; “yellow light” foods like lean protein, whole grains and dairy of which children must be mindful of their portions; and “red light” foods such as sugary drinks and treats of which consumption is allowed but must be reduced. 

Childhood obesity has more than tripled since the 1970s, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. CDC statistics show nearly 1 in 5 school-age children and young people (6 to 19 years old) in the United States is obese. 

While obesity in children is a growing problem, an app is not the answer. 

Kurbo could be a gateway to children developing eating disorders. According to kidshealth.org, dieting at a young age and putting too much focus on weight are two of the leading causes of eating disorders.  

“Teaching children about ‘good’ versus ‘bad’ foods is not developmentally appropriate and can harm their relationship with food,” dietitian Josée Sovinsky told Health

Most people with an eating disorder will tell you their relationship with food is not a good one. Children distinguishing categories of good and bad foods will inevitably make them feel punished when they eat a “bad” — or red light — food. This will no doubt result in an unhealthy relationship with food, and that’s not something that’s OK for anyone, especially a child whose brain is still developing. 

I downloaded the app as a “child” and a few of the “goals” it asked me to select broke my heart: lose weight, make parents happy, feel better in my clothes and boost my confidence. 

Then when I started to log food, I was shocked to see applesauce, peanuts, 2% milk and yogurt labeled as red light foods. These are basic things my three nieces — ages 5, 7 and almost 8, who are perfectly healthy — eat all the time. These items are not French fries and milkshakes; these are basic staples of the average child’s diet. 

Additionally, chicken is a yellow light. 

Really?

Is this really the way we want to make our children healthier? Through an app that gives them a red light for having a snack like applesauce every other kid their age is eating?

There are many other strategies to help a child lose weight if it’s necessary. Kurbo is a dangerous method because it is free and although it is “designed” for children who are at least 8 years old, much younger children could access it. 

Kurbo

Kurbo's success stories include kids as young as 8 years old.

Sovinksky said children should be encouraged to explore varied food groups and cooking skills and reach a healthy weight that way. 

I think it is a parent’s job to cook and provide healthy meals so children don’t become obese but additionally allow them to enjoy cupcakes, chicken nuggets and other foods kids love because everything is OK in moderation. 

Parents should get their kids in the kitchen and educate them about foods that are healthy for them. There is a way to educate children about healthy foods and habits without making them feel like they’re getting in trouble or breaking a rule. 

Children who use Kurbo are going to be entering a dark place they may never return from. Logging each individual meal and snack on a screen then being graded on if the meal is good, bad or worse is setting a child up for psychological damage. Eating disorders are incredibly hard for a person to overcome and if it’s something that began during childhood it will be even more difficult.

Getting a yellow light for eating a well-balanced meal with grilled chicken is not going to make a child feel like he or she is on the right track. The green light is the only notification that will make a child feel successful, and sadly fruits and vegetables are the only green light foods. 

While adults are capable of understanding why we should limit portions of nuts and grains, children can’t do the same. Children will forever associate those foods as bad and stay away from them thus be strayed further from a nutritionally balanced diet.

It is undeniable Kurbo will cause harm to children of all ages. The youngest age group is hardly old enough to make decisions about what to wear much less be part of a routine diet coached via an app. The oldest group is in the midst of high school in which girls and boys both care the most about what others think of them; this group of kids naturally develops body image issues during this time and does not need a dieting app to accelerate that into overdrive.  

To give a child a tool almost guaranteed to cause detrimental effects is something I can’t understand a parent allowing. 

Weight Watchers has the wrong idea with this app. It will in fact induce behavioral changes but not the kind the organization is hoping for. 

Santana Wood is the interim managing editor of The Outlook.