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WW Launches Weight Management App for Kids and Teens
By Lindsey Getz

Childhood obesity remains a serious problem in the United States, affecting approximately 13.7 million children and adolescents, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This is setting up many young people for lifelong, chronic health problems—a fact that WW (formerly Weight Watchers) has acknowledged they can potentially help prevent. Having created successful programming for adults, WW sought a scalable program, designed specifically for kids and teens. This has led to the launch of Kurbo by WW, a behavior change program designed to help kids and teens aged 8 to 17 reach a more healthful weight.

Kurbo by WW is an app that provides simple, science-based tools to help its child and teenaged members with weight management and overall well-being. Kids and teens can track behaviors related to food and activity and receive responsive, personalized messaging; learn about and practice meditation, such as breathing techniques; sort through an assortment of quick recipe videos; and engage in fun games that focus on healthful eating and living.

To inspire more healthful eating, Kurbo uses the Traffic Light System, which guides users toward making healthful food choices by putting foods into one of three groups—red, yellow, or green. Kids and teens are encouraged to eat many of the healthful “green” foods (such as fruits and veggies), be mindful about moderate portions of “yellow” foods (such as lean protein, whole grains, and dairy), and gradually reduce but still include sparingly “red” foods (such as sugary drinks and treats).

Though the RDs Today’s Dietitian speaks with in this article can easily all agree that encouraging children to make healthful food choices is a positive endeavor, they unanimously express concerns about tracking eating behaviors (by logging which foods are eaten throughout the day) in this young population.

“I’m leery of the idea of tracking food and activity at an early age, as I’d be concerned about it setting kids up for a lifetime of dieting,” says Michelle Dudash, RDN, Chef, author of Clean Eating for Busy Families.

Adrianne Delgado, RD, LDN, author of Nourish, Eat, Repeat, agrees, adding that this could be a “slippery slope” for some children—though she does see a couple of positives.

“I appreciate the fact that WW incorporates behavior modification tools like meditation, encourages daily movement, and brings awareness of healthier food choices,” Delgado says.

However, Delgado feels the drawbacks outnumber these positive aspects.

“As a supporter of the HAES [Health at Every Size] movement, we should be teaching our youth that bodies can be healthy in all shapes and sizes,” she continues. “Studies show that 79% of weight loss program participants cope with the pressure of weight loss by eating more food. These habits create disordered eating behaviors and have the potential to follow the child into adulthood.”

Delgado also expresses concerns about the Kurbo coaches not being trained dietitians. After completing a brief questionnaire, members are paired with a Kurbo coach who performs 15-minute weekly check-ins via video chat to determine whether members are on track or what strategies they may need to meet weekly goals. Kurbo coaches also are available to answer questions that may arise through an in-app chat, e-mail, or text. The coaches come from a diverse range of professional backgrounds, including counseling, fitness, and nutrition-related fields.  

“If there is a true health concern, I personally would want an expert in the field giving advice to my child,” Delgado says.

Bonnie Taub-Dix, MA, RDN, CDN, creator of BetterThanDieting.com and author of Read It Before You Eat It: Taking You From Label to Table, agrees, adding that although we rely heavily on apps and electronic devices for managing many areas of our lives—when it comes to our diets, and more importantly, our children’s eating habits—nothing beats human connection with a trained professional.

“Childhood obesity—or obesity at any age, for that matter—is complex,” Taub-Dix says. “We eat because of many reasons, including our emotions, our culture, our friends, our beliefs, our budget, and more. Without counseling from a credentialed health professional, like a registered dietitian, I’m not sure that this structure will be individualized but instead might lead to strict or inappropriate dieting. It would take more than a traffic light system to understand which foods are better to eat than others, since we are all individuals. I understand these apps have been helpful for adults, but I’m not sure whether—at least without proper supervision and guidance—these are fit for kids.”

— Lindsey Getz is an award-winning freelance writer based in Royersford, Pennsylvania.