Wake Up Weight Watchers


Do we want to instill a fear of food in youngsters?

If you’re active on social media, you may have come across the hashtag #WakeUpWeightWatchers  this past weekend. It’s a response to the company offering a free six-week program to teens as young as 13 to help them with weight loss – as long as they have their parent’s permission. The good news for those of us in Canada, the promotion – or should I say the potentially risky and simply stupid idea– is not being offered here in Canada and let’s keep it that way.

But maybe with the social media initiative, Weight Watchers will rethink their offer south of the border.

It would take pages and pages- no actually books – to talk about all the things that are wrong with this.

So where to begin?

Firstly, if this is being thought of as a way to help stop the growing obesity epidemic, research shows that dieting, especially starting at this young age, will do the exact opposite. It’s not just a recipe for weight gain but also for the development of eating disorders.

A dietitian colleague of mine in the US, Rebecca Scritchfield, wrote a very insightful and powerful piece about all that is wrong with this initiative. In the Washington Post piece, “Weight Watchers is targeting teens with a new free program. That’s a problem” she points out that dieting has been associated with binge eating and two fold increase risk of becoming overweight and that dieting was the most important predictor of developing an eating disorder. She goes on to explain how dieting can lead to both.

It’s bad enough that in our weight- obsessed society, kids going through puberty most often have horrible body image issues. Everywhere they turn, they hear about weight-how good someone looks because they’ve lost weight or what the latest trick is to shed pounds in a flash. And if they happen to grow a few inches and look thinner, they receive compliments galore. If they gain a few pounds back, someone will be sure to let them know it hasn’t gone unnoticed. But to then be taken to a meeting where everyone there is trying to lose weight or maintain the weight they’ve lost is beyond comprehension.

Fat shaming is a sure fire way to destroy a kid’s self esteem. It’s also way to teach them to have a lifelong love-hate relationship with food.

When I get calls in my office from parents who want me to see their kids who are overweight, I refuse – but with an explanation. Instead, I want to see the parents alone and for them to bring in information about what their child and the family eats. It’s enough that that child is likely being teased at school about their weight but they don’t need to think they need to see a dietitian because there’s a problem with their body.

Then I want to know about the family’s food environment – do they eat balanced meals at breakfast time or do they run out the door with minimal amounts to eat. What’s on the lunch menu and what are the foods that are readily available to the family? Are there any family meals? Who is cooking and what kinds of dishes are being prepared? Are the kids involved in the food preparation? Are ultra-processed foods the mainstay of meals? These are questions for the parents, not the kids.
A child who misses the appetite controlling aspects of a healthy breakfast is going to crave less than healthy options later in the day. But to say that that child is the only one who needs to eat a balanced breakfast while the parents or other family members don’t is not a solution. Parents need to set examples with healthy lifestyles and about their attitudes about their own bodies.

I also talk to the parents about not banishing treats from their kids menus while at the same time, having the parents put limits on these foods. But the limits are best explained as not being for weight management but that wholesome nutritious seats are needed for energy and growth and if kids pile on the junk, there’s no room left for the healthy stuff.

There are also numerous issues we go over such as getting rid of liquid sugar in the home. Eating fruit instead of drinking juice and banishing sugar laden soft drinks-for everyone in the family-is one example of changing the homes food environment.

Incorporating changes such as these can offer benefits for the whole family- no matter what the family member’s size- and without the youngster there in front of me, it makes it less about the particular youngster.

Considering all the pain and publicity that Oprah Winfrey has endured about her weight through her public life, I would have guessed that she wouldn’t allow kids to get on the diet bandwagon at such as young age.

I was wrong, Oprah. Very, very wrong.

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Categories: Children's Health, Rosie's Rants

Author:Rosie Schwartz

Rosie Schwartz is a Toronto-based consulting dietitian and writer.

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5 Comments on “Wake Up Weight Watchers”

  1. Jane
    February 12, 2018 at 6:06 am #

    Dear Rosie – couldn’t agree with you more! I lived in England with my grandparents – my parents were still in Canada – and gained a lot of weight. My mother met the boat when I returned, took one look at me, burst into tears and hauled me off to the doctor the next day to put me on a diet. I was 9 years old and 65 years later, after all those years of being made to feel that my only worth was my appearance, feelings of failure because I could loose the weight but not keep it off and my mother’s constant reminders of that failure, your email today has given me hope of a way forward. Your speaking to parents and getting an overall picture of the environment, both physically and emotionally, will be a great help in keeping other young people out of the same cycle.

    I joined WW a couple of months ago and will not be renewing that membership when it comes to an end next month. The thought that others might be caught in that cycle is troubling.

    • February 12, 2018 at 11:46 am #

      Thanks, Jane for providing your perspective! Your experiences are exactly why the #WakeUpWeightWatchers movement has started. It is indeed heartbreaking to hear of people spending their lives thinking they are failures when these systems are at fault. Please let Weight Watchers know what you think. Our young people need to be rescued from this!

      • Jane
        February 12, 2018 at 12:13 pm #

        Thank you for your quick response Rosie. I had much the same thought about letting WW know why I was cancelling. I cancelled my membership shortly after they originally introduced their Smart Points plan a few years ago because I saw the way it was introduced and the lack of support to existing members in the changeover as being a cynical money grabbing marketing ploy and made them aware of that reason. The optimist in me thought that this time around it might work for me – it hasn’t although they have obviously learned a lesson from the last changeover.

        it wasn’t until I read your email this morning that things came into perspective. A case of “when the student is ready the teacher will come” and I thank you for that. And I will definitely let WW know my reasons for cancelling. Is there an existing site to which I can add comments – I’m not very computer literate (dial phones and carrier pigeons have their appeal) – last time I sent an email directly to WW and got a boilerplate thanks for your comments in response.

  2. February 12, 2018 at 12:28 pm #

    Jane, if you’re on social media – Facebook or Twitter – then a comment there would get more mileage but if not, here’s a link where you can provide feedback. Maybe if they get enough feedback, they’ll smarten up. But I’m very happy if I have helped you see that you are not the failure. It’s the system! I’m sorry you’ve had to go through this.

    • Jane
      February 12, 2018 at 12:40 pm #

      Not a fan of Facebook or Twitter and when I clicked on “here’s a link” nothing happened so I’m going to send them an email outlining my concerns based on my own experiences. I’ll let you know what if anything I hear in return

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