Earlier in August, Weight Watchers, now formally rebranded as WW, unveiled a new dieting app specifically designed for 8-17 year olds called Kurbo. The meal-tracking app, described by its website as a “fun app” which “keeps you on track,” uses a traffic light system of green, yellow and red signals designed to signify healthier foods and meal choices, as well as regular, personalized coaching and check-ins. While WW claims that the interface, designed to mimic that of Snapchat, is based on “science and developed with leading experts in weight loss & behavior change,” the overwhelming public response has been disapproving. The negative backlash is warranted, however, with fear of creating eating disorders and body-image issues among the young users that Kurbo is targeting. A 2016 study by the American Academy of Pediatrics found that dieting is “unproductive”, and it increases the risk of developing an eating disorder. So, with what conscious can a national brand release an app which aims directly to do what experts have repeatedly found to be reckless and harmful to developing kids?
The problem lies in a fundamental misunderstanding of health and nutrition throughout America as a whole. The truth is that dieting trends, apps, meal-plans and coaches, similar to those of Kurbo, have become common place to America adults. According to Business Wire, the U.S. weight-loss market is worth $72 million. While the effort to instill dieting critique and techniques in developing youth is incredibly problematic and detrimental to their prolonged health, we must confront the fact that our country more readily accepts foods marketed as healthy, promoting weight-loss, low-carb etc., rather than just to simply eating real food.
A redeeming factor of Kurbo is that, while the traffic-light signal is restrictive, it does subtly enforce choices of naturally healthy food such as fruit and vegetables, while accurately classifying processed foods in the red. However, fitness and dieting apps have been found to lead to negative feelings. According to a 2019 study by JMIR Publications, half of their 100 participants expressed feeling guilt, obsession or social isolation when using apps meant to encourage health and weight loss. These apps tell us what we should be eating and when. But do we know why we should choose this meal over that? The gap between truth of what we should be eating and what we’re being told to eat is alarmingly large. There seems to be little confidence in healthy eating habits and lifestyle, resulting in a dependency on these harmful apps and fad diets which ultimately fail us. Weight cycling, the process of starting a diet, losing weight, gaining the weight back, going on a diet again, etc.), creates frustration and the lingering feeling that the re-gaining of weight is your fault for not doing something right. The truth is though, diets just don’t work. Sure, diets like Keto and Whole30 promote seemingly manageable alterations in your everyday diet in order to lose weight. However, the sustainability of these recommended eating habits is not long-lived. The high of making changes, seeing results and receiving positive affirmation for it only lasts so long. The cycle continues, ultimately putting so much trust and effort into following the latest diet trend or cutting this or that out of your diet but having to deal with the same end result time after time.
So, if fad diets and commercialized weight-loss plans don’t work, what does? That’s the golden question. Navigating health and nutrition can feel like a rabbit hole. Most everyone has their own belief of what you should and should not be eating or how often and what kind of exercise you should be doing. The simple truth is this: what works for one person most likely won’t work for the next. Nutritional needs vary from person to person and the sole fact that we are all incredibly different when it comes to our body’s basic needs should be reason enough to discredit diets which push for cookie cutter meal preps and plans. Michael Pollan, author of Food Rules, sums up everything he’s learned about food and health by saying, “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.” There’s truth to that too. Our nation needs to refocus our confidence in foods which are being marketed to us as healthy, low-calorie, low-fat, whole wheat and so on, and truly trust real food; food which comes from the Earth, isn’t modified, created or packaged within a factory, and doesn’t promise to make you lose weight.