Weight Watchers recently announced a new, free 6-week program for teens 13-years-old and up. In an article in the Washington Post, health professional and mother, R
“With celebrity names such as Oprah Winfrey, who is on the board of directors, and DJ Khaled, the latest spokesperson for Weight Watchers, the company is on track to exert powerful influence on people far and wide. Kids will undoubtedly pay a heavy price for this “free” membership, in the form of body shame. It will not only affect those who participate, but also every other teen who is exposed to the message that some bodies are “problems,” and if you’re at a higher weight, your body needs to be fixed. Thus, kids of all sizes will have something to fear.
The name is Weight Watchers, not Health Enhancers.”
We asked our resident Certified Nutritionist and Lifestyle Educator, Lorrie Karn, her opinion. Below is her response:
I can honestly see both sides of this coin.
On one hand, youth obesity is an epic problem! As a country, we need to do something. The more resources we can provide to our youth (and families), the better. Kids need to know what healthy eating is, and moreover… portion control. They need to know what a (serving) actually is. Likewise, having a support group like WW lets kids know they’re not alone.
On the flip side, I think what is ‘bothering’ this opponent the most is the term “Weight” Watchers (versus “Health” Watchers). I understand she’s framing this to address the vast amount of body shaming present among our youth. It’s a matter of vernacular really. She wishes to address health issues rather than perpetuating the focus on weight. Interestingly that is splitting hairs. We have to look objectively at what is causing health (co-morbidity) issues… weight. Excessive weight with this age demographic, can cause or worsen asthma, type 2 diabetes, orthopedic issues, hormone issues, as well as the psychological issues.
Jane Pentz, founder and CEO of AASDN (American Academy of Sports Dietitians and Nutritionists)(whom I’m certified with) has a long standing relationship with the USDA to educate kids and youths to understand food in terms of nutrients and portions. Her focus is more on body composition versus body weight.
My point to that is there IS a happy medium.
Weight Watchers has some really great concepts, but they have some really crappy ones too. As part of my education path, I have had to attend and evaluate Weight Watcher meetings. I love the group support and education on portion control, but they really miss the mark with respect to weight loss… as they do not necessarily discern between simple weight loss and loss due to sarcopenia or other unhealthy practices (i.e., as long as you’re in your point range, you’re good – not necessarily focused on nutrients). I am also not a fan of how much processed foods they ‘allow’, up to and including their own product line.
At the end of the day, we need to recognize that our country has a very serious issue with our youth and the rising health issues upcoming with them. This will ultimately affect medical care costs (including hospital stays, pharmaceuticals, doctors fee schedules) and other employment costs (lower productivity and more paid time off, which ultimately affects the consumer).
It doesn’t help that gym class has been removed or seriously modified because of our pampering egos and over-thinking ‘body image’ and ability issues. Kids can participate in all kinds of physical movement which will not only burn calories and promote self esteem, but also teach them group participation and team mentality which will serve them later in life. Whether it’s yoga, Zumba, football, or underwater basket weaving, I guarantee there is SOMETHING for everyone. Having kids participate in things they’re not necessarily comfortable with will also aid them in navigating awkward situations later in life. Schools also need to be a bit more proactive in putting some spending on food and healthier choices. Schools can also teach a health class that isn’t focused on the birds and bees, but actual health.
To the authors point…. we don’t have to draw individual attention to someone who is already at an awkward age and point out that they are ‘obese’. Instead, teach them about food and movement… the rest will fall into place naturally.