It’s Lydia’s 9th birthday party. All of the children in their Disney-themed costumes are gathered around singing “Happy Birthday” as the candles on the chocolate cake await to be blown out. Everyone cheers as she does; her mum bends down to ask what she wished for. “To be really good at my new mobile game. It’s this new thing people in my class have downloaded where you write down everything you eat, and try to make the numbers go lower. The ones that mean how much you weigh. You know, the one that flashes up on those scales we have in the bathroom?”
Mum looks worried and says they’ll talk about it later. They cut the cake together, handing out slices on paper plates to all her friends. Mum says “That’s yours darling, that’s the special birthday piece. It’s got the white chocolate balloon on it – your favourite.”
“But birthday cake’s a red food mum. It’s a bad traffic light. My game says you’re not allowed many red foods and I already had one this morning because of the butter on my toast. So no thank you, otherwise it means I will be doing something bad, and I don’t like to be bad. My number needs to go lower.”
Can you imagine?
Although Lydia isn’t real, and this is a fictional scenario, the danger we face after WW’s (formerly ‘’Weight Watcher’s’) launched a new weight-loss app for kids aged 8+, is that we’re closer than we think to this being very real. Not just with one kid, but scattered all over the world. When I saw the news flash up on my news feed about this new ‘Kurbo’ app… disgust and shock were my first reactions. Followed by disbelief and hurt, as someone with a long history of an eating disorder and body image insecurities.
After the scary increase of eating disorders over the last few years, as well as the increase of social media usage that enhances these in modern times… I just couldn’t put 2 and 2 together… whoever was putting together the idea for this app obviously got 7 and not 4 anyway.
But then, sadly, I remembered the billion-pound value of the diet industry. And then I realised it possibly wasn’t so shocking in learning just another greedy tactic of a company focused on making humans feel insecure in themselves, anxious and fearful about their bodies in order to make their wages. $69 a month to be precise, for one kid to subscribe. I know?!
WW – trying to re-brand as a ‘wellness’ company instead of weight loss, argues that obesity is a problem (ker-ching for them) and they are targeting kids at an early age to get a hold of it so they can be healthy. But what’s completely missing here, is the realisation of a kid’s MENTAL health – the brain programming that carries a young person through right to adulthood and potentially the rest of their lives.
One truly special thing about being a child, is their intuition – that they’re able to trust this intuition much more than we are as adults. It allows them to explore the world, be free to find out who they really are without research and over-analysing as learn to do as we get older. So to offer children this app at the age of 8, which tells them to write down everything they eat, and categorise foods into ‘good and ‘bad’ has the potential to destroy that. And for me that’s a heart-breaking concept. MOST children, at this age, are not consciously aware or troubled by areas of their body, or strive to look a certain way. Instead, it’s just the vehicle that allows them to do handstands or run the other side of the playground in a game of ‘tig’. Food is energy and they’ll look to the parents or the teachers when it’s time to eat, and whether they’re allowed that packet of sweets in the shop.
And the solution to all of this – to kids’ eating habits and health, if that is meant to be the bottom line/purpose of even the beginnings of thinking up this weight loss app (even though if you ask me, it’s all about the dosh) is the parents, the care-givers and the teachers. They are the models, the valuable assets to the way a child interacts with food. I know there must be a difficult amount of pressure felt by parents especially, to face the conflict at times of getting children to eat a wider range of foods, but perseverance and experimenting with different fun ways to do this, seems the logical way forward. Not weighing kids. Not planting a seed in their head so young and innocent with a weight loss app, that encourages obsession around food and disordered eating behaviours. Make exercise fun. To all parents and teachers – be a model for your child and your pupils.
So if kids choose the paid subscription for this ‘Kurbo’ app, WW ‘attempt’ to back up the safety of all this, by stating that they provide one-to-one coaching. These coaches will not only encourage the kids with their health and weight goals, but are apparently trained in spotting early disordered eating. Well, I just find this laughably ironic to be honest… because by actively luring children to engage with this app, is already nurturing that disordered eating pattern inside of them. Even if at that time of their life they don’t develop an eating disorder right away, all that they’ve learnt through this mentally damaging app, will still be carried inside their brains into adulthood, and an eating disorder could spring out at any moment, especially as a teenager. And even if an eating disorder is not the case, the app still has the potential to sabotage relationships with food, particularly with categorising foods into seeming ‘right’ or ‘wrong’/dangerous, therefore perhaps leading to restrictive, and then binging behaviours. Whatever the route, things just don’t look hopeful for any poor kid roped into this app. Whether they see it at the time or not.
Let’s just hope there’s enough backlash from all of us passionate about this topic out there, along with the media and other healthcare professionals. There could then be a ban of this app, and that way WW or ‘Weight Watcher’s’ as I still see them, (not a ‘wellness’ company, thank you) could see their flawed values as a business damaged, and perhaps this will discourage the over-powering diet industry just a little bit. They don’t deserve our cash, especially not our childrens’.
In an ‘Elle’ article, registered dietician Abby Langer hit the nail on the head by saying “they’re trying to establish brand loyalty for the rest of these children’s lives.” Terrifying.
Over and out.