• Tami Bruskotter

Post #24 Weight Watchers & Kurbo

In Podcast Ep #19, Tami hosts the discussion about the new WW and their addition of Kurbo for Kids!


Let’s start with 2 absolute truths:

1. Skinny DOES NOT equal Healthy.

2. Being Overweight DOES NOT equal Unhealthy.

So how do we help kids who are overweight?

According to the Centers for Disease Control, 1 out of every 5 children and teens in the US are classified as obese. That is one of the scariest things I’ve ever heard. Why? Because the statistics show that 40% of the children who are overweight now will continue to be overweight during their teen years, and 75−80% of obese adolescents will become obese adults.

Good health is about so much more than weight. Weight is only one indicator or diagnostic tool for overall well-being. I know lots of thin people without a stitch of muscle, who have caused themselves real problems by simple focusing on what the scale says…I’m talking osteoporosis, malnutrition, and heart failure, to name a few. I also know some thicky-thicks with clear arteries, no diabetes, who workout regularly…they’re aware their weight could be better and that chances are diabetes, heart disease, and joint issues could follow.

Now, when adults have weight issues that start in adulthood, AND deal with that weight gain in a timely fashion, they will have a certain window of time to reverse the negative side effects that may come. It’ll still take work to lose weight, but usually, the body is more used to being in a healthy state and will respond to effort. (But if you’ve been yo-yo dieting or struggling with weight gain throughout most of your adult years, you know it can be really difficult to get back to that reset!)

Being overweight as a child, however, significantly increases the chances for pre-diabetes & diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, certain cancers, and so many other health risks.

So, Here Comes Kurbo…What is it?

Kurbo by WW, is a free mobile app targeting kids between the ages 8 and 17. Basically, kids enter their height, weight, age and their health goals, then they can track what they eat and how much they exercise. If they want a weekly virtual health coach, that service is also available for a fee of $69 per month. Kurbo Health, a technology start-up out of Palo Alto, Calif., was acquired by Weight Watchers in 2018. And, by the way, Weight Watchers is now just WW ‘cuz rebranding is cool, Y’all!

Their research and approach is based on a successful program from Stanford University. On this eating plan all foods and drinks are allowed and there’s no calorie counting. There is a “traffic light” approach to categorizing food and beverages:

· Green Light = natural, low-calorie foods

· Yellow Light = not the best, but not the worst choices, based on their low calorie approach

· Red Light = low nutrition, processed, sugary, or high fat foods that would need consideration on how to include them

Gradually, kids are steered to reduce their Red Light choices, and encouraged to move toward those Green Light foods.

Any Benefits?

Sure, children of all ages love their tech! If they’re going to be on a device anyway, at least this is something that teaches them how to be healthier. There are games and streaks for tracking their meals, so the app appeals to that desire for goal tracking and rewarding achievement. Also, anyone who’s ever dealt with a picky eater knows that most of the time those food battles are about control. Kurbo gives kids a chance to have a say in what they eat, so perhaps there could be less tension at mealtimes.

Sometimes, kids are just plain tired of hearing their parents hark about healthy eating. With this tool kids can learn about all kinds of foods, they can feel empowered by being accountable for their choices, and they can get support from a coach with no fear of parental judgment.

Any Risks?

Hell Yeah!!! In 2016, the American Academy of Pediatrics found that dieting and children is just a bad combo: the risks for obesity and eating disorders double! Now, Kurbo states that their program is not a diet, but how do you keep kids from seeing it that way? This is like opening the gates to diet-culture for the younger set…and we all know that in the long-term most dieters will fail.

· There’s the shame a child may feel at simply being included in a group that needs to watch what they eat. Just having the app on their phone may induce teasing from other kids.

· What about the shame they’ll feel if they deviate from the program? Y0-yo dieting is a wicked shame-spiral!

· Some kids hate to feel like they cannot have something, so sneaking and bingeing could be how a teen copes with feeling deprived. Teens usually have more independent access to food.

· Other children may use the program as a gateway to anorexia/bulimia because the of their desire to “win at all costs”. They’d rather exhibit an unhealthy control over their food in order to log the most Green Light foods and show the most dramatic weight loss

· Body Image Issues! Ninety-one percent of American women are dissatisfied with their bodies. (Teen girls – 50%, Teen boys – 25%) Just talking to kids about their weight can result in low self-esteem. Do we really need to start the self-loathing so early?

The aspects of Kurbo that really bothers me are some of the actual food classifications:

Vinegar and Skim Milk are considered Green Light foods. I would NEVER have my child drink fat-free milk! Vinegar is great, but how much of it is any kid going to crave? And certain balsamic vinegars are full of sugar.

Chicken and Avocadoes are in the Yellow Light group…WHAT??? I would gladly stuff my boy (and myself, for that matter) with chicken and avocados at every meal, but that’s food boredom.

Peanut Butter, Sourdough Bread and Whole Milk are banished to the Red Light Group. People in other countries can hear me screaming right now! Low sugar, no high-fructose corn syrup peanut butter and organic whole milk can offer amazing benefits to many children. And the tart starter that’s used in quality sourdough bread is filled with gut-healthy probiotics.

The Bottom Line?

We all want happy, healthy children. No one wants to set their kid up for a lifetime of obesity, medical problems, body image issues, or the struggles of eating disorders. Child and teen obesity is a real problem and should be a serious concern for all of us in regards to public health. These next generations may not live as long as the previous ones, and who knows what issues they’ll pass on to their kids as our genetic pool is altered.

I teach nutrition seminars to groups from Pre-K to adults, and I have to be so careful not to vilify foods. We all need to be making better choices for our health and our family’s health, and not just with food. I think this Kurbo app could be great for younger kids who can make a game out of healthy eating (provided some of those food classifications are changed!). But pre-teens and adolescents are already being bombarded with conflicting messages… “Try the new Popeye’s Fried Chicken Sandwich!” then, “Rock those skinny jeans and 6-Pack Abs with these 5 simple moves!” I’m not sure this app is quite right for the older group.

In the end, it really up to us parents and caregivers to have real, non-scolding conversations about what we eat and WHY! We need to lead by example and to not make every reward, celebration and comfort about FOOD.

They crave what we teach them to crave.

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