Boy on tablet under sofa

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When WW, the company formerly known as Weight Watchers, announced the launch of Kurbo by WW, an app for nutrition and weight loss for children ages 8 and up, the social media firestorm began (predictably).

Many were inspired by Anna Sweeney, a certified eating disorder nutritionist who tweeted, "I thought I hated Weight Watchers. I did not hate her as much as I do now. Bringing weight loss into fashion for kids makes the development of eating disorders easier and more trendy. I'm not here for that. "

Nobody disagrees that childhood obesity is a problem. According to the CDC, just over 18 percent of US children are obese. But with an app for kids? We called nutritionists and childhood obesity experts to hear their opinion.

Your problems with Kurbo:

It promotes the idea of ​​food as "good" or "bad"

The app uses a traffic light approach to encourage children to eat healthier foods. These appear green in the app, which means you can eat many of them. Yellow is "good for you in moderate portions", and red light "should make you think". Children are encouraged to track what they eat – they can see as soon as they enter it in the color of the food. Some foods turn red when the portion size increases.

"I know they're trying to say you do not have to go without food," says Abby Langer, RD, of Abby Langer Nutrition, who worries that children learn to classify food as good or bad. "If you're marketing a healthy nutrition program for children 8 years and older, you should be sure that your messages are all about healthy food, not 'not eating' this or that," she says.

Curious boy using digital tablet in the kitchen

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The idea of ​​kids tracking makes nutritionists shudder

"My understanding is that they focus on other healthy behaviors, including stress management and sleep," says Jenny Favret, LDN, a registered dietitian on the Duke Pediatrics Healthy Lifestyles Program. "I think they say the right things, but tracking is a little worrying for me, and every time we do something with children, we have to be very careful, I've been doing that for enough years, so children, if they can to focus too much on what they are pursuing, starting to feel like a diet. "

WW says it's not about weight, but the app does not seem to be that way

"While the claim is that it's all about health, not weight, the details point to something else," says David L. Katz, M.D., founder of the True Health Initiative and author of The Truth About Food. "Every success story presented on the Kurbo website is measured in pounds of loss or BMI reduction. I think WW is struggling with an existential conflict. They are a weight-loss company in their own right – everything that has been built so far has something to do with it. You want to be a wellness company now, but this is a difficult affair when success has always been measured in lost pounds. "

What helps overweight and obese children?

  • Turn healthy food into a family business. Langer says that "the best way to make your child eat healthier or more nutritious is to do it himself." But not obsessive. "I'm not sure if mom or dad using WW to lose weight and the kids using Kurbo are the same as a family learning how to eat well, be active, and have health together. It's difficult to reconcile everyone who interacts with their own app with the vision of 'Family Power', "says Dr. Cat. While this reflects the principle of the family, I'm not sure it's really about the family in practice. "
  • Do not put your child on the scales! "Do not talk about weight," says Langer. "It only takes a comment to influence a child's relationship to food into adulthood, so if it's a big deal, it'll be a big deal." In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that parents and families avoid weight-eating keep away.
  • Let hunger, not calories, tell them what to eat. "If you're not hungry, I do not care if you eat a green meal – you eat it for the wrong reason," says Favret. It is better to teach children to adjust to their hunger signals and to nourish them with nutritious foods than to eat for the wrong reasons or to eat a snack.
  • Let children be children. "I prefer keeping children away from tracking devices – whether they're food or activity trackers – and just let kids be kids," says Mohr Results' Chris Mohr, PhD, RD. "Play, eat, sleep, have fun." The obsession over every last bite we put in our mouth seems to me to have the potential to take children away from what food should do – nourish and strengthen our bodies – and to confuse his role as "good" or "bad." "Food has no morality; Let us not raise it as such. "

    But maybe all the excitement about the app has the advantage that you can also see how you eat. How many of us do this to say to Mohr, "Play. Eat. Sleep. Have fun? "Food for thought.