When Weight Watchers rebranded as WW last year, they announced that they were shifting the company’s focus from weight to “overall health and wellbeing”. The rebrand was a well received move that was immediately backed up by releasing an app to help kids lose weight, which was a terribly received move.
The app, called Kurbo by WW, and is aimed at kids aged between eight and 17, and works by tracking everything you eat. Foods are categorised as red for things like fast food and lollies, yellow for food like dairy and grains, or green for food like fruit and veg, with the ultimate goal being to eat as many of the green category foods as you can.
Criticism of Kurbo have come in fast, and include some pretty scary warnings. Some experts are actually worried about the app having the complete opposite of its intended affect, and causing some really serious damage. The system of ranking food by colour and tracking everything you eat isn’t calorie counting, but it’s very close to it, and it’s very easy to see how kids could be learning to obsessively count calories later in life. In a worst case scenario, experts are worried the app could lead to a relationship with food that is so unhealthy, a person could wind up with disordered eating.
For all the criticisms that have come flying at WW, the app has been designed with the best intentions. For now the app is only available in America, a country which notoriously struggles with obesity levels in people of all ages. Unfortunately, releasing an app like this is like slapping a band-aid on a broken leg, because no amount of colour coding food is going to touch some of the systematic factors at play. The link between poverty and obesity has been well documented, and the rise in food deserts where fresh food is difficult to access adds a whole new set of challenges to eating well.
When you download the app, it initially asks you to select some goals you want to work towards. These include options like ‘eat healthier’, ‘boost my confidence’, and even an option labelled ‘make parents happy’. That a kid as young as eight can have their confidence so tied up in their body image is a pretty confronting thought. Think for a second about just how little an eight year old is. What were you doing at that age? Every photo of me taken when I was eight includes my Tamagotchi hanging around my neck on a Bratz lanyard, and my pride and joy was the town I had built under my bed for my Littlest Pet Shop toys. It’s an incredibly formative age.
We’re living in a time where the body positivity movement is gaining a lot of traction, but that doesn’t mean that we’ve managed to get rid of the attitudes that made the body positivity movement necessary in the first place. Kurbo has brought out a lot of anger from many parts of the community, and rightfully so. But maybe when primary school-aged kids are feeling so bad about their bodies that a company can market a weight loss app to them, it might not be the company we should be mad at.