What Health Experts Think About the Newest Weight Watcher App for Kids

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The WW International (previously known as Weight Watchers International) launched Kurbo, an app that they designed to help children as young as the age of eight to reach a healthy weight. However, since its release, the app has gotten mixed reviews.

We all know that eating healthy can have a huge impact on our health, especially in children, but there are some who believe that the app can actually do more harm instead of good with the belief that children may develop some eating disorders because of it.

What is Kurbo?

Kurbo makes use of the “Traffic Light System” which classifies foods into three groups which are yellow light, green light, and red light. The idea behind this app is quite simple. Yellow-light foods are foods that children should be more mindful of, while the green light foods are those that contain fruits as well as vegetables which children should eat more. Red-light foods, on the other hand, are those sugary treats and drinks that must be reduced or avoided.

This app also comes with in-app messaging, counseling sessions, and even meditation exercises just to name a few. Although Kurbo is a free app, if you want to use the coaching or consultation feature, you will need to pay $69 each month. For families who use this option, the child will be paired with a consultant or coach who they can video chat for 15 minutes a week.

According to the WW International, the coaches that they will pair with children come from different backgrounds. These coaches are more of a personal coach who can teach children how to deal with stigma and stress, body positivity, and other mechanical things including balanced diet.  

Does It Work?

Does Kurbo really work? Based on the WW International’s press release, the “Traffic Light System” is backed by 30 years of research and that the app was created at Stanford University with links to the Stanford Children’s Health’s Pediatric Weight Control Program which is a family-based educational program where they teach overweight children, teens, and their families healthy eating habits as well as importance of exercise.

According to Julie Upto, RD, who is a nutritionist in San Francisco, the Traffic Light System does work in other countries. In the United States, the “Traffic Light System” on food packages are not that simple to begin with. Keri Gans, who is a RDN in New York agrees that the system works with it being around for decades and is one of the most effective tools that help children and their families know more about having healthy eating habits.

If you check the website of Kurbo, you’ll find several accounts of children who actually benefited from the program which included their before and after pictures.

Parents are Concerned

There are some parents who are raising issues about Kurbo’s food suggestions. Like it was mentioned before, the app makes use of the “Traffic Light System” to determine where each food belongs. However, when one mother used the app, there are some food choices, like avocado, whole milk yogurt, nuts, and olive oil, falling in the red category or foods that must be avoided.  However, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) these foods are considered to contain healthy fats which are important for a child’s growth and development and must not be restricted at all. Unfortunately, the app categorized them in the red group instead of the green which is raising concerns in parents.

For parents, the app is targeting young children as well as teens and are putting them in a diet mindset at such a young age. There are studies that show that dieting is not that an effective approach to regulating one’s weight and parents are concerned about the app’s long-term effects to their children.

The Experts Weigh In

Back in 2016, AAP released a report stating that they found that dieting and talk of weight in adolescents are not only unhelpful, but dangerous too. And although Kurbo was designed to be a wellness app, instead of being a diet app, it is being promoted as a way for children to lose weight by following their classification of foods which is whole different ball game from the experts’ perspective.

Although the app was designed to be used with a parent, especially for children below the age of 12, there is no guarantee that kids will change their age, or for parents letting their kids do it on their own.

According to Dr. Mark Corkins, who is a pediatric gastroenterologist at the Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital in Memphis, the system that Kurbo uses makes certain foods appear as villains which can cause its users to develop an unhealthy relationship with foods. He further stated that foods that have fats should not be considered as the enemy especially in young children because they are essential to their overall growth and development. Although Kurbo was designed to assist children learn how to eat smarter, it may miss their target completely which can be a cause for concern in many circles.

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