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Kids should not have to worry about their weight. Illustration: Kelsea Shore/Fulcrum

Children should not have to count their calorie intake

When Weight Watcher’s released its new app, “Kurbo,” the company instantly received heavy criticism.  Designed for children between the ages of eight and 17, Kurbo aims to help kids achieve healthier weights through changes in eating habits, according to the dieting giant.

The app features a traffic light rating system, calorie counts, success stories (with before and after photos), and online coaches for US$69 a month. The traffic light system aims to help kids make healthier choices by giving fruits and vegetables a green light, and sugary desserts a red light.

Sounds great, right? 

At first glance, yes, but the truth is the app combines everything a child doesn’t need that could lead them to develop unhealthy eating habits.

Calorie counting and diet tracking are hallmark signs of eating disorders and can also lead to feelings of guilt after eating. A child should not need to be worried about passing their daily calorie goal or having a slice of birthday cake from the “red light” zone.

Before and after photos can lead children to make comparisons between models and themselves, leading to potential feelings of inferiority that could eventually spark eating disorders.

But sugary foods are bad for you, right? That’s why athletes avoid them at all costs!

But that’s not always true, says track and field star Gabriela DeBues-Stafford. In a recent interview with Canadian Running Magazine, the runner says she will “have something more decadent, like a slice of cake, once a week or so.” 

This is also echoed in marathon champion Shalane Flanagan’s recipe book Run Fast Eat Slow which encourages athletes to fuel their workouts with healthy food and plus a dessert. Flanagan also firmly believes in the power of eating healthy fats, such as avocados and dark meat.

In the world of social media, there are numerous bloggers who post about their healthy eating habits and encourage followers to eat like them. Although healthy eating habits are important, we lack awareness about eating disorders that surrounds healthy dieting.

Orthorexia — an obsession with healthy eating — is becoming a problem among athletes. The obsession can lead athletes to cut foods, or even food groups entirely, from their diet. This often leads to a deprivation of vital nutrients and can bring on Relative Energy Deficiency in Sports Syndrome (RED-S). This affects both male and female athletes and presents itself in a wide array of symptoms. It puts individuals at higher risk for stress fractures, depression, and more.

To put it simply, a fixation on “healthy eating” can be just as detrimental to athletic performance as making poor food choices.

But what do the nutrition experts say?

Haley Goodrich, a registered dietician, tweeted “Tracking every bite is not an accurate sense of what a body needs, it’s disordered. Giving foods a ‘red light’ isn’t mindful, it’s fear-mongering. Sharing weight loss photos of kids isn’t motivation, it’s shameful.”

Goodrich is reflecting the views of a large number of nutrition experts who advocate for eating when you feel hungry, and not eating if you don’t feel hungry. Dieticians of Canada recommend that children “enjoy healthy eating as a normal part of childhood, enjoy at least 60 minutes of physical activity daily, and limit sedentary behaviours and screen time.” 

Sound familiar? 

These are the same guidelines that have been repeatedly set-out by Canada’s Food Guide, while elementary schools across the country are increasingly incorporating daily physical activity into their curriculum.

The bottom line is that the Weight Watchers app for kids could do more harm than good. Parents should encourage healthy choices, but allow room for indulgence, and promote daily exercise.