From Weight Watchers to WW to Healthier Youth?

WW is stepping out on a limb and we hope the world is ready for it. Not quite a year after walking away from its identity as Weight Watchers, it’s taking a bold step. WW is rolling out Kurbo by WW for kids 8-17 with excess weight and obesity. Is this something that can be part of a pathway to healthier youth?

Carefully Researched

This program is not something that popped up overnight. It’s a virtual coaching and behavior change program developed for kids based on many years of research. At its core is the traffic light system devised by pediatricians and shown to help young people make healthier food choices. Foods are grouped into greens, yellows, and reds. Greens are eat all you want. Reds are the least healthy ones. The goal is to help kids shift their food choices to more greens and fewer reds over time. It’s all about a healthier dietary pattern without calorie counting, supported by a smartphone app.

According to the Evidence Analysis Library of the Academy of Dietetics and Nutrition, the evidence is strong for this approach as part of a childhood weight management program.

Kurbo licensed the Stanford Pediatric Weight Control Program and used it as the foundation for Kurbo’s virtual coaching system. No miracles here, but it’s a big step up from peer pressure to lose weight and word-of-mouth diets.

Peer Pressure and Unmet Medical Needs

Right now, about one-third of kids have excess weight or obesity. Almost half of teen girls have tried to lose weight in the last year – a number that’s risen lately. It’s a difficult situation, often with an unhealthy approach to an actual health issue.

The evidence so far on the Kurbo system gives us reason to believe that this could be a good tool for dealing with a tricky problem. Kurbo has clear and rational eligibility criteria. Youth must have a BMI above the 85th percentile to enroll. Live coaches monitor for issues. It sounds good.

But you can be sure that Kurbo by WW will bump into skeptics who plainly do not trust the Weight Watchers heritage of WW. We live in an age of skepticism, so maybe that’s OK. Vigilance is a good thing. Justifiably, people will want to know about any unintended consequences.

However for those who would reject this option, we have a question. What’s the scalable alternative for healthier youth?

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August 14, 2019

5 Responses to “From Weight Watchers to WW to Healthier Youth?”

  1. August 14, 2019 at 9:43 am, Mary-Jo said:

    I get it. There is a huge gap in delivering intervention for children who need it and this KURBO program is a step or two better than leaving children and their families to manage on their own. But, we have to be super aware that KURBO, like, WW, relies heavily on dietary modifications, group support, and, somewhat, that accountability factor, although I’ve already seen mixed reviews about accountability. To me, the gold standard still is providing access and delivering multi component treatment as encouraged by the POWER program which is trying hard to study how and what works best, but have already assessed the multi component effect works best, which includes timely face-time sessions with RDs and exercise physiologists.

  2. August 14, 2019 at 11:00 am, Allen Browne said:

    While this may help with health, It’s unlikely to help with the disease of obesity. For those whose energy regulatory system prevents them from improving from their disease of obesity, there should be no shame or blame. And there should be effective options available. This program is a good starting place, but be careful of unrealistic expectations. And use this program as the background for advanced tools of management for the disease of obesity.


  3. August 14, 2019 at 1:40 pm, Valerie Lawrence said:

    I’m a longtime Weight Watchers (okay, WW) member and former meeting leader and I can’t offer a scalable alternative; in fact I think the Kurbo system sounds like a behaviorally sound program. I do have a concern though about who will be coaching the youth. Meeting room leaders aren’t trained health professionals and I’m pretty sure the online WW coaches are either. Will Kurbo users work with coaches outside of the WW umbrella who are trained dietitians or nutritionists? This seems important; there’s a lot of dodgy information that passes from even the best-intentioned meeting leaders.

  4. August 14, 2019 at 11:19 pm, Carrie said:

    The evidence summary supports modest improvement in weight outcomes (no hard clinical outcomes) with no discussion of harms. Particularly if the benefits are modest and are in weight, rather than a hard outcome, I think it’s inappropriate not to study and report potential harm, and it is also inappropriate to leave that out of an evidence summary.

  5. August 21, 2019 at 2:53 pm, Juliet said:

    The alternative is that if our focus is healthy kids – not 11 year-olds being able to “fit” into “trendy” clothing and “skinny jeans” – the focus should be on healthy habits. The focus should be on access to food. The focus should be on finding ways to ensure children have access to a wide variety of foods. It should be on movement for the sake of joy, not punishment for eating or to earn the right for food.

    This app is utterly disgusting, but it’s the same thing adults and teens have been doing with Weight Watchers for decades. The language may be altered, but the end result is the same… food restriction, food shame, guilt, disordered eating behaviors, thinking that thinness is the answer to everything and anything, from health to love and treating your body like garbage whilst under the impression you’re doing something healthy and positive for it.

    If that’s really a legacy we want to pass on to our kids, well… that’s just sad.