Weight Watchers recently announced in a press release on Feb. 8 that it's planning on rolling out a program specifically targeted at teenagers by 2020.
Mindy Grossman, the President and CEO of Weight Watchers, said in a statement that Weight Watchers wants to start the conversation about maintaining a healthy weight earlier by "helping the development of healthy habits at a critical life stage" and offering free Summer memberships to teens between 13 and 17 years old.
Weight Watchers told Today why it thinks the program could actually be beneficial to teenagers who struggle with their weight:
Our goal is to help those who need healthy habits to develop them at this critical life-stage; this is not about dieting. For a six-week period this Summer, teens will be able to join Weight Watchers for free and can continue their membership through age 17. They will be required to go to one of our meeting locations for their parent/guardian to provide consent, as we know a family-based approach is critical at this age. We have and will continue to talk with healthcare professionals about specific criteria and guidelines as we get ready to launch this program. We think there's a real opportunity to make an impact on a problem that is not currently being addressed effectively.
So far, no details have been released about whether the program will be tailored to the specific needs of teens or whether it will be a variation of the traditional point system adults have been following for years.
Although the brand's intentions may be well-meaning, there's been some backlash to the program from medical professionals.
Lori Ciotti, a regional assistant vice president of operations for the Renfrew Center in Boston, MA, explained that learning to count calories at such a young age can be harmful to a teen's relationship with food. "Dieting is a slippery slope into an eating disorder," she said in an interview with Today. "It sends a message that one should not listen to their body's hunger or fullness cues, so it's really concerning from that perspective."
She continued, suggesting that it could lead to eating disorders down the road:
"I think what [Weight Watchers] is doing here is offering a sanctioned method of counting calories or points or whatever they want to call it. It's not teaching teens anything about self-care or self-worth. Instead, it teaches them that their worth is about a number on a scale or the back of their jeans."
And according to the Twitter hashtag #WakeUpWeightWatchers, many people don't seem to be on board with this concept, either.
Instead of teaching young girls how to diet and obsess over weight, can we teach them useful life skills. Budgeting. How to build a resume. How to network. That's what I needed at 13. Not a diet.#WakeUpWeightWatchers
— Christyna Johnson, MS (@encouragingRD) February 10, 2018
Your body is not a problem. You do not have to spend your summer counting and weighing instead of growing and living. Go collect memories, not points.#WakeUpWeightWatchers
— Megan 🐼 (@bodyposipanda_) February 13, 2018
The true cost of the weight watchers proposed program for teens is a lifetime battle with disordered eating and poor body image. We are obligated to protect young people from this predatory marketing #wakeupweightwatchers
— Witchy all year 🌟 (@Lisarachnid) February 10, 2018
To teens everywhere (and my teenage self who would've begged her Mom to signup for this program): you are worthy, smart & strong. Your worth is not found on the scale. There is much more to life than your body, food and weight. Go LIVE. #wakeupweightwatchers
— Emily Costa (@emilyanncosta) February 10, 2018
What do you think? Is this a good idea for teens or a terrible one?