The new and “Free” Weight Watchers program directed towards adolescent’s may negatively harm them.
Weight Watchers announced on February 7th, that they will be providing free memberships, six weeks during the summer, for teenagers between the ages of 13 to 17 years old. Weight Watchers aims to increase its’ program reach to 5 million people by the end of 2020 – as they plan to build lifelong customers.
The question here is, what are the impacts of this program on adolescents today?
Although this may initially sound enticing and may be hard to see the harm, let’s look at some points that show how this could negatively impact teenagers–now and in the future.
Weight Watchers is sending out a message to all teenagers, participants of the program or not, that something is wrong with their body, which is a form of body shaming. Is this the kind of message that we want to give to teenagers today? According to the Mayo Clinic, one of the main reasons teens develop eating disorders is SOCIETAL PRESSURE. We should be showing teens we love them as they are.
The obesity epidemic is no doubt a major concern relating to teens’ health and to their future. Obesity and eating disorders are widespread among teenagers. Everywhere you turn, there is a picture of what a perfect body looks like and the many ways one can try to achieve it.
However, programs such as this needs to be evaluated before being promoted, especially considering the psychological outcome. A 2016 research study by the American Academy of Pediatrics suggests that obesity prevention can lead to eating disorders. Eating disorders are the 3rd most chronic condition following obesity and asthma in adolescents. Adolescence is a critical age where the individual develops self-identity, and messages like these can trigger young people to believe their bodies are not perfect, which can lead to eating disorders.
According to Dr. Eve Freidl at Columbia University, teenagers are supposed to be growing and getting bigger, and their brains just aren’t fully developed yet — the part of the brain that is more involved in the emotional world is developing faster than the part of the brain that is really good at long-term planning and decision making,” she says. “So while Weight Watchers is suggesting that this might be a good time to implement healthy behavioral strategies, I think saying that without data and research, as to the most responsible way to do it, can be dangerous.”
So, if programs and messages like these are not in the best interest of the child then how do we help them?
What we need to do is to create a more balanced environment for them to be able to adopt a healthier lifestyle – guiding them constructively to make healthier and wiser choices and to increase physical activity is the best approach. This message starts at home with parents. They have the biggest responsibility of shaping a child’ behavior. What they eat and how they live their lives is determined by their environment and relationships at home.
We want to create a healthier body image not a distorted body image. This can be accomplished with an integrated approach from family members and health professionals such as a registered dietitian to apply lifestyle modifications.
This blog is co-written by dietetic student intern Rub Ali.