Ten-year-olds packing their lunch for school should be focused on getting the perfect peanut butter-to-jelly ratio, not switching back and forth between cutting their apple and typing the foods and portions they consume into an app.
Weight Watchers released their new app, Kurbo, in August, promoting weight loss for kids aged 8-17 years old. A time in kids’ lives that’s supposed to be filled with chasing down the ice cream truck and munching on popcorn and M&M’s at the movies is now turned to counting calories, weighing themselves and creating an unhealthy relationship with self image. Kurbo is taking advantage of kids’ insecurities and trying to make a profit out of it.
We live in a society where it’s already difficult to feel secure with your image — especially just as you’re growing into your own body. The last thing kids and teens need is an app dictating their diet to make them skinnier.
At age 13, kids no longer need parents’ knowledge or permission to sign up for the app. 13-year-olds who haven’t even stopped growing or hit puberty, who don’t even know what a diet really means, who might not have made it through middle school. Graduating from a “tween” to “teenager” doesn’t mark the start of unhealthy dieting habits.
Designed to help children and teens “improve nutrition habits and lose weight,” Kurbo allows the user to track everything they eat, from their breakfast, lunch and dinner to any snacks they eat throughout the day. Kurbo uses a “traffic light system,” meaning they measure the quality of food people are eating with a green, yellow or red light.
Kids who haven’t even started Driver’s Ed are basing their diet off of a traffic light. A green light food would be fruits or vegetables, which the app allows kids to have in higher portions. Yellow light foods are foods like lean meats or whole grains, which the app finds okay, but in smaller portions. Red light foods are unhealthy foods like french fries or milkshakes, which Kurbo only allows the user to have six portions of per week.
Coaching plans can be bought with the app at prices of $69 for one month, $189 for three months or $294 for six months to have live video sessions and text messages to talk about their weight loss progress. The coaches, meant to inspire the kids and teens to reach their weight loss goals chosen when they signed up on the app, can be a catalyst for kids pushing themselves further into unhealthy eating habits or over-exercising to reach their goals. While they may just be encouraging the teen to lose 20 lbs, without parental control on the app there isn’t a way to monitor how they really achieve it.
In a naive stage of their life, kids and teens ages 8-17 are the most likely to develop an eating disorder, according to US News.
There are cases when focusing on eating healthier and being more active is a necessary step, but pushing the idea of an ideal weight on kids from as young as eight years old is wrong. Doctors and parents should have the authority to help their children if their facing obesity or their health is at risk — not an app designed to make money by pointing out insecurities and flaws in kids.
Kurbo forces kids to associate negative attitudes with food starting at an early age, which can lead to an unhealthy relationship with food and even eventually developing eating disorders. Paying this close of attention to food and portions is a step that can quickly turn to an obsessive managing of calories and eventually to an eating disorder like anorexia.
Already in our society, 2.7% of teens struggle with eating disorders according to the National Institute of Mental Health and a majority of kids and teens are affected by the false body image stereotypes that are flooded through our social media accounts and TV shows. The last thing we need in the middle of our AP U.S. History homework is the thinking about the donut we had for breakfast — red light.
No eight-year-old should be counting calories, and no kid or teenager should be crying over an app telling them they don’t meet the “correct” body image ideals.
Kurbo may have the appeal of a health app, but it definitely doesn’t lead to a healthier state for kids using it.