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Weight Watchers criticised for app aimed at children

A weight loss app aimed at children as young as eight could increase the risk of "disordered eating" among young people, critics claim.

WW, formerly known as Weight Watchers, released Kurbo this week, an app aimed at children aged between eight to 17, which they say is a "scientifically-proven behaviour change programme" to help children "reach a healthier weight".

The app follows a Stanford University's paediatric weight control programme and offers coaching as well as a way to track food intake and weight.

But the US app has been criticised by celebrities and nutritionists as well as members of the public, who fear it will make children obsessed with weight and counting calories.

We’re excited to introduce @KurboHealth, a science-backed tool uniquely designed for kids and teens who want to improve their eating habits and get more active. Find out more at https://t.co/1hvFKOWAGd! #WellnessThatWorks pic.twitter.com/a5SLVS5wtk

— WW (formerly Weight Watchers) (@ww_us) August 13, 2019

The Good Place star Jameela Jamil said: "Oh f*** no… are we kidding? Breeding obsession with weight and calories and food at the age of…8? I was 11 when my obsession started, due to being put on a diet for being the heaviest girl in the class. I became afraid of food. It ruined my teens and twenties.

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"*If* you are worried about your child's health/lifestyle, give them plenty of nutritious food and make sure they get plenty of fun exercise that helps their mental health. And don't weigh them. Don't burden them with numbers, charts or "success/failure." It's a slippery slope."

Harley Street nutritionist Rhiannon Lambert said: "The true cost of WW's weight-loss app for children isn't $69/month, it's a lifetime battle with disordered eating and poor body image. Please read responsibly."

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Dr Seema Yasmin, a Stanford University professor, called it "truly disturbing".

Image: Weight Watchers, which rebranded as WW, has been criticised for the app

Some were less damning, with one of the app's designers telling how proud he was to have worked on it, and another person saying: "This is extremely positive for our children. So many kids are suffering from obesity despite parents best efforts in promoting healthy lifestyles."

In a press release for the app, Mindy Grossman, president and chief executive at WW, said: "To change the health trajectory of the world, we have a tremendous opportunity, but also a responsibility, to help kids, teens and families.

"With Kurbo's proven platform, we can be a trusted and powerful partner for families, as part of our mission to inspire healthy habits for real life, for everyone."

Joanna Strober, co-founder of Kurbo, said she could "personally attest" to the app's importance after her son struggled with his weight at a young age.

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - MAY 29:  Kurbo Founder and CEO Joanna Strober attends The New York Times Health For Tomorrow Conference at  Mission Bay Conference Center at UCSF on May 29, 2014 in San Francisco, California.  (Photo by Michael Loccisano/Getty Images for New York Times)
Image: Joanna Strober is the co-founder of Kurbo

On the app, children can log food, practice breathing exercises, and look at recipes, as well as go through 15-minute personal training sessions designed to match their goals.

Parents of children using the app will be emailed weekly shopping lists, recipes and a newsletter with ideas to "help them create a healthy environment for the whole family".

WW say the app is designed to help create healthy habits. However, Kurbo's website success stories focus on weight loss or changes to BMI percentage points, which measures weight against height.

WW bought Kurbo in 2018 and has been adding features like a Snapchat style interface and multi-day streak rewards, according to Time.

It ploughed on with plans despite criticism in February last year when it announced it would make its services free for teenagers aged 13-17.

Ms Grossman told Time: "It actually strengthened our resolve and made us offensive."

Time also reported US government statistics that reveal from 2013 to 2016 38% of American teenagers aged 16 to 19 said they had tried to lose weight during the past year.

Nearly 20% of children aged two to 19 are obese, according to US figures.

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