The Dangers of the New WW Kurbo App

Dear parent, I know you want the best for your child—that you want your child to be healthy and happy and thriving. So I beg you, if you genuinely want your child to be healthy and to set your child up for success when it comes to navigating food and body concerns as well as mental wellbeing, please do not put your child on a diet or encourage the use of a weight loss app. For those of you who aren’t aware, @ww recently came out with an app for kids ages 8-17 to track food. This app uses a stoplight system to rank foods—green, yellow, and red. I have SO SO many issues with this app as a dietitian and someone who work with clients with food and body struggles. This app is unethical and dangerous. Here are a few of my issues:

1.     This app targets kids during a time when they are *supposed* to be gaining weight (swipe over for the charts). For example, clinical recommendations for weight gain during the ages of 8-18 for a boy who has been on the 50th percentile is 100 lbs and for a girl is 85 lbs (you can see that during teenage years it is 50 lbs and 25 lbs, respectively.) We are pathologizing something that is completely healthy and normal—creating shame and guilt. Your child needs to grow out before he/she can grow up.

Boy growth chart
Girl growth chart

2.     Only one of the “health coaches” listed on their site has a degree in nutrition, the rest have backgrounds in communications, political economy, tourism, etc. I’m not knocking their degrees, they simply don’t have the education background I believe is necessary for helping coach children in the area of food nutrition (FYI, an RD has at least 4 years of school plus an internship and national board exam. Some of us also have a master’s degree too).

3.     Kids think in black and white and this app could easily lead kids to viewing food as “good” and “bad” and we simply know that food nutrition is not this simple—there is a lot of nuance. This good/bad mentality causes so much anxiety, guilt, and shame. Eating a “bad” food then makes you “bad” and alternatively, eating a “good” food makes you “good.” I don’t know about you, but I don’t want my children gauging their morality based off of their food intake.

4.     From the little bit I’ve seen (I will acknowledge I have not downloaded the app), it appears mainly fruits and veggies are green, lean proteins and grains are yellow, and pretty much anything high in calories is red. This way of viewing food simply in terms of calories is completely ignoring nutrition. Yes, fat is high in calories, but also so so important for our bodies as well as for fullness and satisfaction. Fruits and veggies are important for our health, but I have plenty of clients who used to eat mainly fruits and veggies and they can report they feel WAY better eating a wider variety of foods (the GI system can only handle so much fiber haha). Hummus, applesauce, etc should NOT be considered a red food, and yet they are on the app.

Risk of eating disorder is 242X more than T2DM.png

5.     Dieting is a huge predictor/trigger for disordered eating and eating disorders. 1 in 4 people who go on a diet develop an eating disorder. Guys, this is a staggering statistic. ONE in FOUR. Your child has a greater risk of developing an eating disorder than type 2 diabetes. This is the biggest reason I cannot get behind an app like this (or WW allowing teenagers to join) or any form of dieting. I have personally experienced an eating disorder and work with clients every day who are working hard to overcome their struggles with food so that they can live a rich and full life. Eating disorders are dangerous (they have the highest mortality rate of all mental disorders) and strip away everything important to the people who struggle with them.

6.     The app and WW can claim that it’s a lifestyle plan, but they talk all about BMI and weight and have before and after pictures. This is about weight, not health. The Academy of Pediatrics clearly states that children should NOT be put on a diet. If they genuinely care about health, this app would be altogether different and there would be no talk of weight or before or after pictures.

7.     Speaking of before and after pictures—this creates the idea that the before was less than the after. These children are valuable regardless of their body size or the way they look. Putting children on diets only tells them that their body is a problem that needs to be fixed, bringing me back to point number 1 and 5.

This app is problematic on so many different levels. I’ve heard the National Eating Disorder Association released an official statement on the dangers of this app (along with many other health professionals) and yet WW has not taken it off the market. Let’s be honest, they don’t care about the health of your children, they care about their bottom line. So please, please do not allow your children to use this app. And comment below if you have questions or concerns--I am open to respectful dialogue. Share this and other articles with your parent friends. And if you are interested, sign this petition to get it removed