Stop Kurbo, Weight Watchers dieting app for kids

“It all started when I got a fitbit…”

“It all started when I learned how to count calories…”

“It all started when I downloaded the Weight Watchers app…”

That’s how nearly every one of my appointments begins with a new disordered eating client. They tell me their story, how they first began restricting or bingeing. They tell me about how their dissatisfaction with their weight and body began, and more often than not, it began with a piece of technology that promotes weight loss through counting calories and food rules.

Counting calories and food rules are two behaviors I look for in patients diagnosed with an eating disorder, but for individuals in larger bodies, those behaviors are praised and encouraged leading them down the road toward an eating disorder as well.

On Wednesday, August 14, WW, formerly Weight Watchers, launched an app specifically geared at children ages 8 to 17 to teach them these behaviors. The app, Kurbo – although attempting to be more kid-friendly by using a red, yellow, green light system to label foods – boils down to the same point system Weight Watchers is famous for. It teaches kids to budget their red and yellow light foods and eat up the green light ones.

Encouraging children to diet, track their calories and strive for weight loss explicitly goes against recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics which suggests “discouraging dieting,” and “not talking about weight” with children.

A 3-year study on nearly 2,000 teens found that dieting is the most important predictor of new eating disorders, Patton et al. (1999). According to a study published in the American Journal of Child Nutrition this year, 1 out of 4 people who diet will get an eating disorder. Therefore, children, no matter their weight or BMI should not be put on a diet. Eating disorders cause irreparable harm and have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness.

Children are growing, they will and should gain weight. As dietitians we should help children learn to love all types of food. We should help children learn to love movement and being outside. We should help children learn to take care of their bodies so they can stay strong. We can help children change bad behaviors, we should not introduce new behaviors we also know to be harmful. We are taught to help children preserve their natural intuitive eating instincts, not strip them away with prescribed calorie counts and weight goals.

Help kids stay confident in their body and what they want to bring in their lunch box.

Children are not little adults is a tenant of pediatrics. The Kurbo app encourages before and after photos, just as traditional Weight Watchers always has for adults. With the target age range spanning all of puberty, it is alarming to think that children should be striving for weight loss and change in a negative direction during this time. It is typical for children to gain between 20 and 50lbs during puberty, not lose that amount.


As dietitians and health practitioners it is important that we stand up for the wellbeing of our clients. It is important that we take seriously the risk dieting and negative body image poses on every individual, especially the next generation.

According to the Renfrew Center, the incidence of eating disorders has doubles since the 1960s and is increasing in younger age groups. In order to stop this continued growth all dietitians, and all people together, need to stand together against apps like Kurbo and the promotion of dieting behaviors in children.

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