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An App to Help Kids Eat Better

A new Weight Watchers® app aimed at children is raising concerns.

Food app for kids

According to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 18.5% of children ages 2–19 have obesity. Clearly, tools are needed to help our youngest generations trim down.

Weight Watchers, now rebranded as WW®, recently launched Kurbo, a new weight-loss app aimed at ages 8–17. Among the weight- and diet-focused elements of the Kurbo app is a traffic-light system that indicates which foods kids can freely enjoy and which they should limit. For example, an apple gets a green light, and soda gets a red light.

“Strategies such as the traffic-light eating plan and motivational interviewing have proven to be effective in helping kids achieve a healthy weight,” says Natalie Digate Muth, MD, MPH, RDN, CSSD, FAAP, a pediatrician  and dietitian at Children’s Primary Care Medical Center in Carlsbad, California. She counters, however, that children’s programs that are not medically supervised and that market themselves by focusing on weight or showing “before-and-after” pictures of children raise some concern. “There is potential for this to negatively impact body image in children or possibly trigger a preoccupation with weight loss rather than a focus on building skills that improve health habits.”

She adds that apps like this can function to increase screen time in youth. The app is set up in such a way that children under the age of 13 are supposed to use it only alongside a parent, but this policy is difficult to enforce. In the end, Muth, who is a contributing editor for Fitness Journal, believes that the most effective way to help children adopt healthier habits and/or achieve a healthy weight is through a family-level intervention. “Parents should be prepared to monitor and engage with their child rather than leaving it up to the child to carry out a program on their own.”

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Matthew Kadey, MS, RD

Matthew Kadey, MS, RD, is a James Beard Award–winning food journalist, dietitian and author of the cookbook Rocket Fuel: Power-Packed Food for Sport + Adventure (VeloPress 2016). He has written for dozens of magazines, including Runner’s World, Men’s Health, Shape, Men’s Fitness and Muscle and Fitness.

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