Posts Tagged ‘eating disorders’


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:


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.


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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Although childhood obesity is a devastating health problem there looms another on the other end of the weight spectrum- eating disorders. Eating Disorders occur when normal eating and behaviors surrounding food, weight management, and body image become extreme. Anyone; females, males, all races, people from all socioeconomic levels and all intelligence levels; can develop eating disorders. Eating disorders affect 5 to 10 percent of all students.

Factors that influence eating disorders may include emotion and personality disorders, family pressures, a genetic or biologic susceptibility, physical or sexual abuse, and a culture where there is an overabundance of food and an obsession with weight. These factors lead many youth to diet, control their appetites, lose weight, and eventually develop one of three different types of eating disorders: Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa, and Binge Eating Disorders. All of the disorders are extremely serious.

Anorexia nervosa is a devastating eating disorder in which those affected adopt patterns of behavior that in extreme cases, may lead to self-inflicted starvation. Symptoms of anorexia nervosa include: refusal to maintain weight, intense fear of weight gain, distorted body image, loss of sexual desire or menstrual periods, extreme concern with body weight and shape. Personality traits associated with individuals with anorexia include: perfectionists, conflict avoidant, emotionally or sexually inhibited, compliant, approval seeking, excessively dependent, socially anxious, fear of spontaneity, reluctant to take risks, practice food rituals.

Bulimia Nervosa is an eating disorder characterized by binging and purging behaviors. Symptoms of Bulimia Nervosa include: making excuses to go to the bathroom after meals, has had mood swings, may buy large amounts of food which suddenly disappears, has swelling around the jaw, normal weight, eating large amounts of food on spur of the moment, laxative and diuretic wrappers are found frequently in the trash, unexplained disappearance of food in the home, may avoid eating around other people. Characteristics of people who suffer from bulimia are: moody, cannot stand to be alone, demand constant attention, difficulty controlling impulsive behavior, secretive behavior.

Binge eating disorder is similar to Bulimia in that individuals eat large amounts of food in short amounts of time. However these individuals do not purge. Some symptoms include: eating large amounts of food in short periods of time, a sense of lack of control, eating much faster than normal, eating until uncomfortably full, eating large amounts of food when not hungry, eating alone to avoid being embarrassed about how much one is eating, feeling disgusted with oneself, depressed, or very guilt after overeating.

What can parents do to prevent eating disorders?

 Educate children about the genetic basis for different body types, and the nature and ugliness of prejudice.

 Avoid over emphasizing beauty and body shape, especially for girls.

 Promote healthy behaviors such as sensible exercise and eating. Learn and discuss the dangers of weight loss diets.

 Make a commitment to exercise for the joy of moving your body and not for purging fat.

 Teach your children not make judgments on others based on their appearance.

 Encourage intuitive eating. Never limit caloric intake unless requested by a physician.

 Do whatever you can to promote the self-esteem and self-respect of your daughters, nieces and sisters in intellectual athletic, and social endeavors. Give boys and girls the same opportunities and encouragement.

Information adapted from Ohio State University Factsheets ED 1001-1007.

Reviewed by Susan Zies, Assistant Professor, Ohio State University Extension

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