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Experts Torn On Weight Watchers’ Free Teen Program

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As part of an effort to rebuild its brand as a health-and-wellness company rather than a diet brand (and to gain new loyal customers), Weight Watchers® announced in February that it will start a free weight management program for teens this summer. Controversy erupted immediately among health professionals and the public.

On one side, the unabating epidemic of childhood and adolescent obesity, with its related health risks, led some to applaud Weight Watchers for filling a critical need. Others were alarmed at a “diet” targeting adolescents, a population vulnerable to disordered eating and body image concerns.

Details of the teen program at press time in April were sparse. A
Weight Watchers press release stated:

“Weight Watchers intends to be a powerful partner for families in establishing healthy habits. During the summer of 2018, Weight Watchers will offer free memberships to teenagers aged 13 to 17, helping the development of health habits at a critical life stage.”

Media reports on the program suggest Weight Watchers and its critics agree that focusing on lifestyle—rather than weight—is the best way to help teens address the health risks of obesity and eating disorders. Much of the dispute may stem from old notions of “dieting” and from the company’s name (with its weight and diet focus) rather than the program itself.

Keep an eye out for details from Weight Watchers to see if the program is a good fit for teens looking to improve their health and nutrition.

Natalie Digate Muth, MD, MPH, RD

"Natalie Digate Muth, MD, MPH, RDN, FAAP, is a board-certified pediatrician and obesity medicine physician, registered dietitian and health coach. She practices general pediatrics with a focus on healthy family routines, nutrition, physical activity and behavior change in North County, San Diego. She also serves as the senior advisor for healthcare solutions at the American Council on Exercise. Natalie is the author of five books and is committed to helping every child and family thrive. She is a strong advocate for systems and communities that support prevention and wellness across the lifespan, beginning at 9 months of age."

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