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Posts Tagged ‘adolescent health’

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My son eating an apple.

I am a Registered Dietitian and toddler mom. In the year my son was born, Weight Watchers rolled out an app called Kurbo by WW to help children ages 8 to 17 “build healthy habits for life”. The app allows users to track what they eat and how much they exercise – not by counting calories, but by using a “traffic-light system” to classify foods as healthy and unhealthy. For a fee, users can also work with a virtual health coach to set and evaluate progress toward health goals. 

Upon its release, Kurbo received overwhelming criticism and media attention from dietitians, pediatricians, therapists and other health professionals. While these experts agree that healthy eating is important, they recognize that both childhood obesity and eating disorders are serious concerns for adolescents. According to the National Eating Disorders Association, eating disorders are serious illnesses that have the second highest mortality rate of any mental health disorder, and they “are too often wrongly relegated to the sidelines as a minor consideration in the ‘obesity prevention’ conversation.” In a similar vein, the American Academy of Pediatrics advises parents and doctors to avoid discussing weight or prescribing weight loss to children and adolescents over concerns that it could lead to disordered eating habits. 

Parents and health professionals alike want to help young people establish healthy eating habits for life, which is the stated purpose of the Kurbo app. There is great concern, however, that using the approach of tracking food intake could lead to disordered eating, unhealthy relationships with food, low self-esteem and unhealthy body image among adolescents. A better approach for encouraging children to develop healthy eating habits and maintain healthy weight is to teach and model healthy eating without food shaming or guilt tripping. The New York Times offers a helpful guide that includes the following suggestions for parents and caregivers:

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My son eating tuna noodle casserole

  • Model healthy habits
  • Involve children in food shopping and cooking
  • Initiative positive conversations about different eating patterns
  • Choose not to use food as a reward, bribe or punishment
  • Refrain from talking about weight or dieting
  • Allow less-than-healthy foods into your meal plan on occasion, without making a big deal about it
  • Respect food preferences and aversions
  • Encourage children to identify and respond to their body’s cues for hunger and fullness

Finally, be sure to voice concerns with a pediatrician or a dietitian if your child starts to obsess over food or weight at any given time. With these guidelines in mind, you’ll be doing your part to help the children in your life develop healthy eating habits.

Sources:

American Academy of Pediatrics (2016). How to prevent obesity without encouraging eating disorders. https://www.aappublications.org/news/2016/08/22/Obesity082216 

CDC (2020). Tips to Help Children Maintain a Healthy Weight. https://www.cdc.gov/healthyweight/children/index.html

National Eating Disorders Association (2018). NEDA Statement on Kurbo by WW App. https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/neda-statement-kurbo-ww-app

Sole-Smith, V. (2019). A New Weight Watchers App for Kids Raises Concerns. The New York Times. https://parenting.nytimes.com/childrens-health/weight-watchers-kids?te=1&nl=nyt-parenting&emc=edit_ptg_20190911?campaign_id=118&instance_id=12279&segment_id=16918&user_id=86dd6cac18c7ca41e6c8d433d5340d6c&regi_id=92717125

Sweeney, E. (2019). How to Teach Children About Healthy Eating, Without Food Shaming. The New York Times. https://parenting.nytimes.com/feeding/healthy-eating-habits?module=article-group&topic=Toddler&rank=3&position=7

Written by: Jenny Lobb, Family and Consumer Sciences Educator, OSU Extension Franklin County and Olivia Levine, Dietetic Intern, The Ohio State University

Reviewed by: Jami Dellifield, Family and Consumer Sciences Educator, OSU Extension Hardin County

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