body image · diets · eating · eating disorders · fat · food

Weight Watchers is going after children and Sam thinks that’s extra awful

As you may know, if you’re a blog regular, I hate Weight Watchers.

They’re now marketing to children, offering free classes with parent’s permission. See here.

Rebecca Scritchfield writes,

“Weight Watchers this week announced its plans to offer free six-week memberships to kids as young as 13, beginning this summer. The company’s move is part of a bigger plan to grow revenue and a loyal customer base for life. (Start ’em young, right?) As a health professional and mother, I am appalled. 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.”

There are many problems with this plan but even if you just care about weight, it’s a disaster.

Study after study shows that early dieting is a huge predictor of weight gain.

The reasons aren’t clear. See Why does dieting predict weight gain in adolescents? Findings from project EAT-II: a 5-year longitudinal study.

I’m one of those kids who joined Weight Watchers and attended with my parents’ permission. I’m not sure if and how that contributed to future weight gain but I do know that I wasn’t really that chubby when I started.

I also know it made me think of myself as someone whose weight, whose body, was a problem to be solved. Best tackle it while you’re young, people would say.

It did start the habit of dieting that persisted through my teens and twenties.

What do you think of Weight Watchers, diets, and weekly weigh ins for children?

Bowls of fruit
Three bowls of breakfast berries, photo by Unsplash

10 thoughts on “Weight Watchers is going after children and Sam thinks that’s extra awful

  1. I do not think weight watchers is the answer, at all, and I agree with you re the ire. But it DOES raise a question I’ve been talking about various parents, which is what DO you do if you are concerned that your child is developing a relationship with food/their body/activity that isn’t setting them up for a healthy life in one way or another. (Emotional eating, hiding and hoarding food, eating far more than is wise, hating all activity). We’ve been talking about this for a while and while I don’t think Weight Watchers is the answer, I am not sure what it is. I might post about this more fully — the “collective wisdom” on this is all over the place.

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    1. There’s some research on what works. I’ll share it. Family meals help. Home cooking helps. Active fun family life. It’s all work and about pleasure not suffering. Also exercise has tremendous health benefits for kids even if it’s not helping with weight so making it weight based sets up a lifelong mistake

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    2. My own experience as a vaguely chubby 10-year old bulking up for puberty whose mother had the doctor put her on a diet is that these behaviors you mention followed the diet, rather than preceded. My mother made dinner every night and we had plenty of activity and family time but she was terrified that I might grow up to be overweight (ironically at this time she was only a little bit heavy herself, but that fear goes back generations). My N=1.

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  2. I’ve done a few talks on the research. What kills me is that no other treatment if it had the documented bad effects of dieting in childhood would be recommended by doctors on the, it can’t hurt to try, plan.

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  3. I wasn’t crazy about Weight Watchers the one time I tried it several decades ago. I hated the guilt of the weigh in more than anything. A friend who has been with them for about five years says they have gone two significant makeovers in that time, and is actually much more about healthy fresh foods, exercise, and figuring out what’s right for you now (even the dreaded weigh in linked to BMI is gone, in favour of tracking to your own personal goals). That still shouldn’t make it right for children. I think the problem is more the kind of parents who put their kids into Weight Watchers than the program itself. My suspicion is that they do far more harm to their kids’ self esteem than an hour a week at Weight Watchers. Parenting for healthy kids is a constant task – home cooked meals, healthy ingredients, outdoor family activities, sports they enjoy, being a good role model. The trick is to make it look like it isn’t a chore, but just a way of living. I made that effort with my own two, who are now healthy and active young adults. I’m still heavy, but I am much more active than I was before they were born, and I’m now a kickass cook, too.

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    1. “My suspicion is that they do far more harm to their kids’ self esteem than an hour a week at Weight Watchers. Parenting for healthy kids is a constant task – home cooked meals, healthy ingredients, outdoor family activities, sports they enjoy, being a good role model. The trick is to make it look like it isn’t a chore, but just a way of living.”

      Well said.

      Liked by 1 person

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