I was eight when I first started exhibiting symptoms of disordered eating. Eight. Let that sink in for a minute. I was being bullied at school and felt utterly alone in my life, so I turned to the one thing I could control: food. By the time I was 13, I was a full-fledged anorexic. This was back in the days when a calorie counter was a little booklet you purchased at the supermarket, tucked in next to Reader’s Digest and the Chapsticks, not an app you download to your phone.
Now, though. I read about Kurbo, and I’m instantly that scared kid again, looking for a way to fit in. For those that don’t know, Kurbo is the new app from WW (formerly Weight Watchers) aimed at kids. Yes, kids, ages 8 to 17. Also known as prime eating disorder age.
According to one study, 56 percent of children between the ages of 8 and 12 have cell phones. Weight Watchers/WW sees this market and seizes upon it, buying Kurbo and adding features to make it more appealing. On the surface, this seems like a wonderful thing to do. Childhood obesity is an epidemic in the United States, and nearly 20 percent of school age children are obese.
But is an app the best way to do this? A covert app that kids can download onto their phones and start tracking every morsel? How is this different from the calorie counter booklet I purchased at the corner store and slid into the slit in my box springs?
It’s not. It’s terrifying to think of a tween girl downloading this app and using it, not under the care of a pediatrician. At that age, children need to be under the care of their doctors if they’re trying to lose weight. They need love and support from their parents. What they don’t need is an app like Kurbo that will add to the chatter in their heads.
Look, I get it. Apps like Kurbo don’t cause eating disorders, but they exacerbate them. Instead of focusing on calorie counting, we (especially us parents) need to teach our children healthy eating habits and get them to love moving their bodies. We need to make healthy meals for them and keep our fridges stocked with easily accessible fruits, veggies, and healthy snacks.
If You Want to Do Something About Kurbo…
There’s a change.org petition to sign. Weight Watchers/WW can make plenty of money in other ways. Let’s not have them make money off our children.
And before anyone says, “It’s free! They’re not making money off it!”, let me tell you what I’ve learned about apps: they collect data. Period. There’s a paid version of the app, and paid coaching you can get through it, but even if your child is using the free version of Kurbo, I can guarantee you it is collecting data that Weight Watchers/WW is monetizing in some way.