WW released the Kurbo app, aimed at children between the ages of eight and 17, which it said is a ‘scientifically-proven behaviour change programme’ designed to help children reach a ‘healthier weight’.
Joanna Strober, co-founder of Kurbo, said in a statement: “According to recent reports from the World Health Organisation, childhood obesity is one of the most serious public health challenges of the 21st century. This is a global public health crisis that needs to be addressed at scale.”
Released in the US on August 13, the free app has been criticised by the public and nutritionists who say the app could ‘lead children to disordered eating’.
Actress Jameela Jamil took to Twitter to express her outrage of the new app stating: “Oh f**k 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.”
Jamil has since endorsed a petition aiming to get the app stopped.
“I would not recommend weight loss programs to kids,” Dr Orli Rhodes-Kendler, Dietician at MyHealthcare Clinic, tells the Standard. “Dieting at a young age or even as an adult can have a negative impact on mental health and wellbeing. It can also lead to long term issues with disordered eating. While there may be cases in which it is necessary to offer nutritional support to children for medical reasons, I would only ever advise this be done with a paediatric dietician with direct support.”
“Children and teens are still developing physically and mentally. Eating in a calorie deficit or restricting your diet at this stage may cause long term effects to development, cause nutrient deficiencies, and a variety of other issues like difficulty concentrating. Not to mention the potential impact on mental health, body image and risk of eating disorders.”
Emmy Brunner, clinical psychotherapist and Founder & CEO of The Recover Clinic agrees, saying a weight loss app for kids is a ‘very dangerous’ route to start the obsessive eating early in life and that there are enough societal factors encouraging this in young children and adolescents already.
Brunner continues: “Through my practice, I have come to believe that most mental health challenges stem from unresolved trauma. And an incredibly traumatic foundation for a child is to develop a relationship with food that is based on demonizing certain options.
“There are other ways to encourage a healthy lifestyle in our children, such as simply leading by example and choosing healthy foods the majority of the time, and encouraging children to have more outdoor play.”
Rhodes-Kendler says eating disorders are most common in girls aged 14 to 17 and have been identified in children eight or younger. These eating disorders – which can develop with a history of dieting – persist through adult life.
“Young children are vulnerable to the impacts of dieting, both physically and mentally,” Rodes-Kendler continues. “I would not recommend this [app] unless medically required and without the correct medical supervision.”