Edinburgh based plus size style and fat positive blogger AmandaApparel shares her thoughts about the Kurbo: the WW (Weight Watchers, Wellness that Works) weight loss app for kids.
CW: diets, weight loss, eating disorder mention
I was only 7 or 8 the first time I tried dieting. When you grow up fat in America, you get treated a certain way. Pressure to slim down comes from every facet of your adolescent life: family, friends, school, church. You don’t go a day without hearing about someone’s mum losing *whatever* pounds, or so-and-so’s auntie trying the *who cares* diet. Adverts for Weight Watchers, Herbalife, and other MLM schemes are inescapable. You know your body is wrong, and you know it’s your fault.
When you start dieting at such a young age, you never get a chance to develop a healthy relationship with food. When you keep a food journal and count calories while you’re still learning basic math, you don’t get to learn how to nourish your body by eating nutritious meals. After all, the only thing that matters is getting smaller. So you reach for a sawdust tasting 100 calorie snack pack, and you crunch on sad, Oreo inspired wafers. Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels, right?
Today, I learned that WW (the point-counting cult, sorry, SmartPoints® System formerly known as Weight Watchers) launched Kurbo, a weight loss app for children aged 8-17. I was instantly transported back to those childhood feelings of being too much. Not good enough. Not thin enough. Not strong enough. Not dedicated enough. I was immediately filled with anger and grief. How dare WW put kids through the same pain I went through as a child?
Now, as @femmina pointed out on Twitter, this isn't a new phenomenon. “WW never had an issue having children as members.” They're absolutely right. According to WW History & Philosophy, minors under 17 are permitted to participate with written permission. However, this all changed in 2018 when WW offered free memberships for teens aged 13-17. Now, this was still in line with WW policy that children under the age of 10 are prohibited from participation...until Kurbo.
Time noted that "The app will inevitably draw praise—for giving a new tool to the millions of U.S. children struggling with their weight—and outrage—for potentially furthering unhealthy body standards and eating behaviors—in equal measure." My carefully curated, fat positive Twitter feed is full of outrage and understandable criticism. Rather than engaging with critics and skeptics, WW are responding with this copy/paste tweet:
“Studies show that programs like Kurbo, which focuses on behavior change for healthier eating & more activity don't cause eating disorders. Kurbo provides kids with tools to make balanced food choices & manage their weight in a healthy way.”
Are they providing access to these studies? Or even just a link to follow? Of course not. They aren’t even providing links to the Stanford University studies that the app is based on. All they provide is a link to Stanford’s paediatric weight control program, which seems to be a dead end for finding concrete data as well. However, studies have absolutely shown that it is totally common for eating disorders to develop in children and teens who are just “trying to eat healthy.”
WW, Weight Watchers, whatever you call it, at the end of a day it is a business whose sole purpose is to generate profit. WW can preach about health all they want, but their own press release reveals this goal:
"Expand the Weight Watchers business: Increase revenue to more than $2 billion, driven primarily by new member growth and improved retention, while increasing profit at a faster rate than revenue."
New member growth: Achieved by expanding their customer base from people age 17+ to 13+, then to 8+. Improved retention: Achieved by getting customers started at a younger age, and keeping them on board into adulthood. But it's all about HEALTH, right? Health sure is a funny way to spell money. Diet, health, wellness, clean-eating, and all other fatphobic industries are rooted in capitalism. There's money to be made in convincing people that they need to change, to shrink, to buy the latest product, to try the latest weight loss tactic.
What happens when we move away from hating our bodies, from dieting, from obsessing over a number on the scale? For me, it was absolutely empowering. Why should I give money to a company that hates me and people that look like me? Why should I bully myself for the adipose tissue on my body when I can cherish it instead? Why stress over every bite that enters my mouth when I can cook nutritious food and stop when I'm full?
WW want you to depend on them. They want you to be a lifelong member. If, like me, you had a really messed up relationship with food in the past, try depending on yourself and your body's intuition instead. There are loads of helpful resources available, and it's absolutely worth the payoff.
Ok2BeFat - Fat Activism Basics
Linda Bacon - Body Respect
Sofie Hagen - Happy Fat