By Marielle Mohs

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — A new app, aimed at kids, is leaving a bad taste in experts’ mouths.

Weight Watchers just launched a healthy-eating program called “Kurbo” for users between ages 8 to 17 — but critics say the diet app could lead to lifelong problems with food.

At a packed lunch at Yum! Kitchen and Bakery, I showed Kurbo to mother Isabel Omolo.

“My only problem would be for a child feeling like they’re being shamed into losing weight,” Omolo said.

Sixteen-years-olds Alyia Appelsies and Laura Pacala see the benefit.

“Feeling good about yourself is something that like teenagers struggle with,” Pacala said.

They see it as a tool to help them deal with something that already exists

“Anything that would like try and help diminish that or like get rid of that in any way, I think is a good thing,” Pacala said.

Here’s how Kurbo works. They call it the traffic light system. Kids can eat whatever they want, but categorize the veggies and fruits as green, meat and pasta as yellow, and candy and soda as red. Kurbo says it’s proven to be a safe way for effective weight loss.

At Melrose Center in St. Louis Park, they treat people with eating disorders of all ages and genders. When I spoke to the medical professionals here, they said they were alarmed by the app, and they do not recommend it for kids or teens.

“We know that dieting for children is not healthy,” said Heather Gallivan, clinical director at Melrose Center. “I think it is challenging on how to approach that with children and adolescents. You have to be really careful about how you talk about these things and the messages you’re sending.”

Showing “success stories” on Kurbo’s website is one of those mixed messages Gallivan is talking about. There are before and after pictures of kids and how much weight they’ve lost on the program.

Omolo sees the benefit, but says she would not let her kids use it.

“It feels so serious for a child to be thinking about that kind of complexity,” Omolo said. “You got to think about how you eat, how you exercise, but at the same time it’s necessary.”

Kurbo responded to criticism, saying, “Kurbo by Weight Watchers focuses on behavior change for healthier eating and more activity, not dieting or calorie counting.”

Marielle Mohs

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