In a press release published on February 7, Weight Watchers announced their “new purpose to inspire healthy habits for real life” which included offering “free memberships to teenagers aged 13 to 17, helping the development of healthy habits at a critical age.” To some, this may seem like a positive feat, however this move brings with it many dangers.
After this publication, Weight Watchers was met with immediate backlash from the public — more specifically body positive and eating disorder awareness advocates. The reasoning? It was programs like these that had caused many of them to develop eating disorders and body image issues in the first place.
A large majority of these advocates are already against any form of restrictive dieting programs that encourage unhealthy habits — such as an obsession over weight — let alone one targeted at teens.
Melainie Rogers, founder of the BALANCE Eating Disorder Treatment Center in New York City, took a stance alongside these advocates and began the hashtag #wakeupweightwatchers; soon enough, the tag accumulated thousands of tweets and Instagram posts.
In response to this backlash, Weight Watchers released the following tweet:
Although they claim to be taking precautions in regards to the concerns surrounding their newfound program, Weight Watchers doesn’t seem to be making any actual changes. Having parental consent is not new news, and was most likely a legal necessity in the first place.
This issue is not about whether or not there is parental consent, but rather the lack of awareness around the fact that companies like Weight Watchers encourage habits that can often lead to disordered eating and body image issues.
While parents who consent to the program may do so out of pure intentions to help their child, they may not realize the true extent of harm it can cause instead.
At the heart of this debate we seem to find a struggle between two prevalent issues, increasing obesity rates and a simultaneous increase in eating disorders and body image issues within adolescents. Although Weight Watchers and companies alike boast about their programs encouraging “healthy lifestyles,” the harsh reality is that they — especially if aimed at teens — do far more harm than good. Ultimately, Weight Watchers is a company that profits off of encouraging people to use their products; and they do so by endorsing unrealistic beauty standards and the idea that the only way to achieve happiness is through losing weight.
The American Academy of Pediatrics released Preventing Obesity and Eating Disorders in Adolescents in late 2016; in which, they explicitly state the importance of promoting a positive body image by means of focusing on “healthy eating and physical activity rather than weight.”
The AAP also condemns dieting — which is defined as “caloric restriction with the goal of weight loss” — for being a risk factor for both obesity and eating disorders, and for being associated “with greater weight gain and increased rates of binge eating in both boys and girls.”
Most individuals develop eating disorder behaviors in their adolescence, more specifically, in the same demographic Weight Watchers has targeted their new program towards.
As a 16-year-old who suffered with an eating disorder for the majority of three years, I feel as though it is my responsibility to speak out against this program.
To any teens out there who may be reading this, your body is not something to be ashamed of. It is not a number to be constantly tracked. It is not something to be profited off of by big companies. To any parents concerned about their child’s weight, programs like these will never be the solution.
To Weight Watchers, please think about the thousands of children who already suffer with body image issues and eating disorders. Think of people like me, who at one point in their life were willing to do anything to lose weight, even if it cost me my health and well being. Think of how a program like yours, aimed at a demographic like mine, will only continue to make the problem you claim to be trying to help spread to thousands more.