Weight Watchers will now be offering free diets to teens and people are not happy about it. Here’s why.
Less than two weeks ago Weight Watchers announced an initiative to roll out free memberships to teens ages 13-17 beginning this summer 2018. With sky high obesity rates you might think this is a good idea, but there’s been serious backlash. Here’s what’s wrong with Weight Watchers offering free diets to teens.
Disclosures: None. This post wasn’t created in partnership with any product or brand.
What’s Wrong with Weight Watchers Offering Free Diets to Teens?
Weight Watchers offering free diets to teens might seem like a good idea. If obesity rates among children, although stable, remain high at 20.5% and are cause for a health concern according to the CDC… shouldn’t this Weight Watchers initiative be a good thing? Well, not so fast. Adolescence is a vulnerable time for the development of eating disorders, and a preoccupation with weight or shape is hallmark in that development.
Soon after the Weight Watchers press release, BALANCE ED Treatment, an eating disorder treatment center in New York, started the trending hashtag #WakeUpWeightWatchers which hashtag has now been used in over 500 tweets.
Eating Disorders and Adolescence
Health professionals and individuals who have battled eating disorders are outraged because adolescence is a vulnerable time for the development of disordered eating. Negative health implications of eating disorders are serious, affecting every organ system from your heart to your brain, gut, hormones and even the possibility of death. In fact, anorexia nervosa has the highest death rate of any mental illness.
Here are some shocking statistics in kids:
- In a sample of 9-11 year olds, 33% of girls and 17% of boys were “very often” worried about being fat
- In a study of 8-10 year olds, 55% of girls and 35% of boys were dissatisfied with their body size
Keep in mind, these kids are pre-pubescent.
How about some shocking stats in teens:
- Over 50% of teenage girls use unhealthy behaviors to lose weight (like skipping meals, laxatives, fasting, self-induced vomiting or smoking cigarettes)
Mic drop. Yeah, no wonder people are upset about the whole Weight Watchers thing. Kids are concerned enough that their body size, shape and weight aren’t up to standard without diets being marketed to them.Eek some NOT happy people about the recent @WeightWatchers announcement and admittedly... I agree. Click To Tweet
The Link Between Diets & Eating Disorders
About 35% of dieters go on to develop pathological dieting, and of those 20-25% develop partial or full-on eating disorders. So, although encouraging and modeling healthful behaviors is positive, suggesting that teens engage in a diet program that assigns a point system to foods could certainly be detrimental to their long-term relationships with food and their body shape or size.
Eating disorder treatment advocates and those who have struggled with eating disorders – particularly those stemming from previously using the Weight Watchers system – have flooded Twitter with their experiences and the hashtag #WakeUpWeightWatchers.
Weight Watchers Reaction
So, turns out if you get a bunch of people mad at a company for targeting teens (one of Weight Watchers other goals was also to increase revenue to more than $2 billion by 2020 – go figure offering “free” memberships to teens is a nice way to segue them into adult paid members), they’ll do something about it.
Weight Watchers sent out a new tweet, tagging the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA), that they intend to work alongside healthcare professionals to minimize risk for eating disorder development with their program. Although what exactly that entails hasn’t been released.
I don’t disagree with teaching habits for nutritious eating and healthy living, but I do disagree with targeting teens in marketing for any weight loss program.
I have worked extensively with the heartbreaking reality of hospitalized patients with severe eating disorders. Nothing compares to the sinking in your gut after hearing “code blue” over the intercom system and learning that your fragile patient was rushed back to ICU. That experience makes me sensitive to phrasing and the approaches used for weight management, regardless of the age. Now I specialize in weight management, and I have worked with children and teens referred by their doctors for overweight and obesity. With kids and teens, even if weight is a clinical concern, the emphasis should not be on weight or losing weight but solely focused on teaching healthful habits in a positive, uplifting environment.
My hope is that Weight Watchers will abandon this initiative targeting teens. I have seen an eating disorder stem from Weight Watchers in a 50-something adult woman who would only allow herself 10-12 “points” per day (about 500-600 calories). Not to say there aren’t people who have had positive experiences with this program, but the risk for obsession and harm is very real at any age, and even more-so in adolescence.
Regardless of which side of the Weight Watchers fence you sit on, it’s important to understand the possible implications of marketing diets to teens. Overweight and obesity problem in kids? Yes. But treating overweight and obesity with a diet in teen years? Probably not appropriate. The best techniques for treatment in those formative years are modeling in the home with healthy behaviors and encouraging a nourishing lifestyle.
What do you think about Weight Watchers move to market their program to teens?
Have you had any experiences with Weight Watchers in the past?