Dr. S. Bryn Austin, AED President, Shares Insights on the WW Kurbo App as Weight Stigma Awareness Week 2019 Commences

Dr. S. Bryn Austin, AED President, Shares Insights on the WW Kurbo App as Weight Stigma Awareness Week 2019 Commences

September 23 marked the beginning of Weight Stigma Awareness Week 2019 (#WSAW2019). The Academy for Eating Disorders (AED) is a proud co-sponsor of Weight Stigma Awareness Week and in unification with the National Eating Disorders Association, the Eating Disorders Coalition, and others, seeks to eliminate stigma and discrimination based on body size. 

Yesterday, marking the first day of Weight Stigma Awareness Week, AED president Dr. S. Bryn Austin posted a statement to AED members regarding the ongoing debate about the controversial app, Kurbo. In August 2019, WW, formerly Weight Watchers, released Kurbo, an app marketed to help children and teens ages 8 to 17 “reach a healthy weight” via food and activity tracking. Kurbo uses a Stop Light Diet approach, providing app users with feedback about the type and amount of foods consumed with green, yellow, or red light “grades.” Virtual coaching is only offered to youth who pay a monthly fee. Since Kurbo’s release, WW has faced a firestorm of backlash from professionals and advocates in the field of eating disorders, weight management, and mainstream media sources. In response, WW has maintained support for Kurbo, arguing that doing nothing to address nutrition and physical activity in children living in larger bodies would be unethical. 

In yesterday’s statement, Dr. Austin encouraged AED members to “… step away from the debate about whether an app like Kurbo could or could not ever be healthful. Instead let’s ask why the app’s release provoked such immediate and impassioned protest and concerns for the mental health and well-being of children. There is nothing inherently harmful about helping children become more knowledgeable about nutrition. However, in our current era where people with higher-weight bodies are routinely stigmatized and denigrated, any app for children about nutrition and weight loss will be refracted through a harsh stigmatizing lens.”

Rather than focusing on opposing points of the Kurbo debate, Dr. Austin suggested that “WW has the opportunity to position itself as an industry leader on company policies explicitly banning weight and appearance discrimination in hiring, promotions, and salary; instituting trainings for all employees, including management, in how to identify and intervene on weight and appearance bias in the workplace; and eliminating health insurance coverage rewards for employees who lose weight or penalties for those who do not. WW could make a meaningful impact by helping to get anti-weight discrimination legislation passed in states and provinces across the country and globally. The company could start by joining the coalition advocating for a bill currently in the Massachusetts legislature sponsored by lawmakers Sen. Rebecca Rausch and Rep. Tram Nguyen to make the state the second in the U.S. to ban weight discrimination by statute.

“From a business perspective, executives of companies that have made the decision to be an industry leader in consumer health  describe this investment as not just philanthropy, but rather as a central part of the company’s business model.

If WW were to seize these opportunities to bring more vigor to its rebranded business model, will the industry pundits chastise the company again for going too far? Probably. But all signs point to a way forward that will require the company to put advancing the well-being of people living in larger bodies front and center in its business model.”

Read Dr. Austin’s statement on the AED website.

ABOUT

The Academy for Eating Disorders (AED) is an international professional association committed to the leadership in eating disorders research, education, treatment, and prevention. The goal of the AED is to provide global access to knowledge, research, and best treatment practice for eating disorders. For additional information, please contact Elissa Myers at (703) 626-9087 and visit the AED website at www.aedweb.org.

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