Weight Watchers is going to make its membership free to teenagers. We have some thoughts

Weight Watchers

Weight Watchers is going to make its membership free to teenagers. We have some thoughts

Family Fitness

Weight Watchers is going to make its membership free to teenagers. We have some thoughts

Watch out, parents.

If you think your kids need some assistance in the weight department, I guess the solution is here?

This summer, Weight Watchers is planning to offer free memberships to teenagers 13 to 17 years old, the company said in a statement.

Credit: Giphy

This is in addition to its goal to “grow revenue to more than $2 Billion” by the end of 2020.

I’m just going to say it: This really feels like they’re trying to profit off the vulnerability and insecurity of teenagers. 

Credit: Giphy

Like, hello lifelong customers! Cha-ching.

The fact that Weight Watchers is trying new strategies for customer acquisition should really come as no surprise.

A New York Times Magazine report from August 2017, “Losing It in the Anti-Dieting Age” documents the downfall (and the ongoing attempt at rebirth) of the dieting company that once took the nation by storm:

“If you had been watching closely, you could see that the change had come slowly. ‘Dieting’ was now considered tacky. It was anti-feminist. It was arcane. In the new millennium, all bodies should be accepted, and any inclination to change a body was proof of a lack of acceptance of it.”

Huh. You’d think they’d just rebrand then.

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Instead, the company reevaluated its purpose.

President and CEO Mindy Grossman said the company’s “new purpose to inspire healthy habits for real life marks an important milestone in the evolution of Weight Watchers.

According to the company site, its “freestyle” program is based on:

A “science-backed SmartPoints system, which encourages you to eat more fruits, veggies, lean protein, and less sugar and unhealthy fats,” according to the site.

That all sounds fine and dandy… but it always concerns me when so much emphasis is placed on single measurements, like calories or pounds.

There’s no way, with our bodies being as complex as they are, that a single number can truly indicate health or even progress toward health. Right?

So I asked a dietitian.

A health expert’s warning against the program

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Megan Kniskern, registered dietitian and nutrition lecturer at Arizona State University who specializes in eating disorders, described the program as “devastating.”

It’s not to say I see Weight Watchers to be a negative for everyone,” she said, adding that she’s tried the program two or three times herself.

“But when we’re teaching kids to eat off of a point system and not off of … their body’s fullness and hunger cues, it very likely can lead to disordered eating and even eating disorder patterns,” she said.

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In addition, Kniskern points out the fragile point at which teens are in their lives: becoming hyperaware of how they fit in, worrying what their bodies look like compared to others, trying to be the smartest or most athletic, etc.

A more beneficial way to educate teens on nutrition and health, she said, would be to bring back cooking classes or host wellness fairs with educated professionals in school.

“To indoctrine a young, impressionable generation into (believing) dieting is what’s necessary and required for their lifestyle and happiness … isn’t the answer,” Kniskern said.

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