Slimquicks in the fridge, Jane Fonda tapes in the basement, two teenage sisters crowded in front of the long hallway mirror comparing their bodies – these are staple memories of my childhood. Along with the doctors telling my mom that I was heavy for my age when I was 10, shame and the friend who asked me if I was anorexic when I finally got my weight under control.
And I am not alone in these experiences. Thousands of children in this country are overweight, and 1 in 5 are categorized as obese. However, there are healthy ways to address these issues – and then there is Kurbo.
The new app from WW – formerly Weight Watchers – debuted on Aug. 13 and targets kids ages 8-17 who struggle with their weight or are not leading a healthy lifestyle. Kurbo divides food into categories based on WW’s “traffic light” system.
Green-light foods are healthy foods – fruits and vegetables that have no portion limitations; yellow light foods – grains, lean protein, dairy – are foods that have some portion restrictions; and red-light foods – high-sugar beverages and high-fat foods – have strict restrictions.
The app also encourages kids to track daily physical activity (though it does not define what physical activity encompasses) and deep breathing. Kurbo is free, but if parents want to cough up about $69 a month, they can get “health coaches” too. They’re labeled as experienced experts in nutrition, exercise and mental health, Kurbo’s website says. But, as Outside magazine points out, they have no standard medical certification – and, for the kids, there’s no screening or in-person meeting.
The program offers videos, virtual games – and, if you go for those coaches, they’ll call your kid once a week for 15-minute sessions.
While it sounds engaging, I think kids are going to see right through the “healthy lifestyle” campaign and see the app for what it is: a diet plan. And that’s problematic on a few levels.
The app’s website states that “Green light foods, including all fruits and veggies, are great to eat anytime.” While produce is certainly good for you, the USDA does recommend guidelines for growing kids – both for fruits and vegetables. In other words, there are portions to everything.
This plan also doesn’t seem to consider different dietary needs such as allergies, diabetic needs, growth needs or even how physical activity factors in to dietary needs. It simply says what people have known for years and can help kids understand through conversations – excess sugar is bad; fruit, vegetables and protein are good.
Consider these “coaches,” too. Here’s a tip about choosing a health expert – whether for mental or physical health – check his or her credentials. You wouldn’t go to a therapist or pediatrician who doesn’t have a degree. Why would you trust some guy or gal on the internet who has six to eight hours of training, as Huffington Post reports, to coach your child?
Many parents are not on board with this, HuffPo reports – nor are experts in eating disorders. One of them told the news outlet that, even if the intent is good, “Targeting kids as young as 8 years old to focus on … their bodies can lead to an intense preoccupation with food, size, shape and weight.”
Tweens and teens are highly susceptible to body dysmorphia and eating disorders. They’re going through puberty, their bodies are changing and they’re comparing themselves to each other and celebrities constantly. So why give them another way to count calories, obsess over exercise and feel defeated when they don’t meet goals?
There are hundreds of ways to start your family on a healthy lifestyle journey. Talk to kids early and often about nutrition, talk to your pediatrician, make mental health as serious a topic as physical health, make sure your home is stocked with healthy foods, cook together, exercise together, talk about health in a positive way and don’t shame your kids for their habits. All of this is possible without a pricey app.