Why The New Weight Watchers Offer For Teens Ages 13 To 17 Puts Their Physical & Mental Health At Risk

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Can Teens Join Weight Watchers? Why Free Teen Memberships Are Dangerous For Their Mental Health

The new program being offered may sound generous at first, but pay close attention.

You may not have known whether or not teens can join Weight Watchers, but now they have made the answer to that question clear, as the company just issued a press release announcing that, among other things, "During the summer of 2018, Weight Watchers will offer free memberships to teenagers aged 13 to 17."

Weight Watchers is a business, of course, and a successful one. It makes practical fiscal sense for them to pursue include larger numbers of younger customers and to incentivize their loyalty with this type of deal.

It's also not exactly a surprising move for a company that recently signed a deal with DJ Khaled as their latest brand "social media" ambassador in a clear bid to attract a younger market. 

But the fact that something is unsurprising, doesn't necessarily make it something good, positive or beneficial. 


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When cigarette companies and the tobacco industry put out advertising campaigns specifically targeting children, the outrage is inevitable and widespread. In fact, with the prevalence of e-cigarettes these days, in 2017 the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a statement shaming the industry for once again flagrantly appealing to children.

When Anheuser-Busch enlisted the spokes-dog skills of Spuds McKenzie, the skateboarding, sunglasses-wearing Bull Terrier to help sell Bud Light in 1987, parents and politicians alike were indignant — who was Spuds for, if not for kids? — and she (yes, Spuds was a female) accepted an early retirement in 1989. 

Smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol are considered to be vices in the United States, and are subjected to taxes and regulations as such.

Dieting, however, does not qualify as a vice. There are no age restrictions on when a person can legally be encouraged to diet. In America, working hard to achieve to a body that is thin and perfect isn't perceived as a "head trip," something that may possibly warp a child's self-perception forever. If anything, in America we view dieting to be stitched into the essence of who we are as achievers capable of becoming whatever it is we dream to be.

If you are a person who has lived in this country for any significant amount of time, you have likely considered the ways in which your body isn't good enough, as well as what you can do to change that.

And there is a strong chance you never once stopped to think about whether or not this is a safe, healthy or positive thing. It is not. 


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Teens need their parents' consent in order to join Weight Watchers, which will be true of the free-trial program as well, but I can't imagine that's going to keep many kids who are interested in giving it a try from signing up. In fact, it's even more likely that many parents will encourage their children to join, which is exactly what Weight Watchers is hoping will happen.

It's important to form a healthy relationship with food and with your own body, and of all the weight loss programs out there, Weight Watchers certainly does do its best to celebrate the individual and to focus on nutritional intake rather than on counting calories.

That said, it is still a weight loss company, which means they make money off of people's insecurity, shame, and low self-esteem. They want you to lose weight and be happy, sure, but they want you to pay them as you do, and also whether or not you do so successfully. 

I am all in favor of learning healthy habits from an early age, but dieting is not a healthy habit, and significant amounts of research has found that dieting does not work.

In order to achieve permanent weight loss, you need to make active lifestyle changes. For many people, that is essentially impossible to do once they've been introduced to feeling shame about their bodies, only to then taste the speedy results of their first fad diet.

When we tell adolescents, implicitly or explicitly, that they need to lose weight, we introduce them to the cycle of yo-yo dieting, which limits their chances for success at permanent weight loss (if that ever becomes their goal) and negatively impacts their mental, emotional and physical health in a variety of ways.

As dietitian Melainie Rogers MS, RDN, founder of the BALANCE Eating Disorder Treatment Center in New York City, tells Teen Vogue:

"Weight Watchers promotes weight loss, and promoting weight loss to teens sends the clear message that to be considered as 'good enough,' you must fit a physical ideal. You must look a certain way — no matter your genetics, your upbringing, your family history. It promotes the idea of 'one size actually does fit all... The message the promotion of dieting sends is that you are not enough as you are, [that] thinner is definitely better, and perhaps even more profoundly, that taking up space is not permitted." 


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Eating mindfully while paying attention to how different foods effect you physically and emotionally is always a good idea, but enlisting a team of weight loss professionals to shape the mind and body of a developing teenager is not.

At the age of 13, your body is still developing. For some, puberty hasn't even struck yet. As your body continues to grow and change, what it needs from you in terms of diet and exercise changes, too. If you are going to a weekly weigh-in and being assigned a number (even if a number of "points" rather than calories) according to which you are expected to manage your food intake at such a young age, there is no way possible that won't effect the way you relate to food over the course of the rest of your life. 

I know what I'm talking about here because I started going to different weight loss programs when I was about 9-years-old.

My doctor was concerned about my BMI and rather than discussing this with me with my mom present, she made her leave the room... and then told me how much bigger I was than all of my peers. My first experience of knowing I was fat came at the age of NINE when my physician pointed out to me that my size was different than that of the other kids my own age, and that this was BAD.

That would have been bad enough, but add to the constant stream of advertising from countless programs like Weight Watchers, Choose to Lose, Nutri System, and Jenny Craig, and rather than raising a young adult who has a healthy relationship with food and her own body, you're raising a woman who will spend her life seeing food as the enemy and her body as her biggest failure. 

If there is half the outcry over this move by Weight Watchers as their has been over other vices being marketed to teenagers, we might not only raise healthier and more well-adjusted children, but we might actually create a world where little girls aren't terrified about their bodies not passing muster just because they don't meet a standard that is ultimately set by the very people who make money off of helping us chase such unreasonable and unsafe goals. 


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Rebecca Jane Stokes is a sex, humor and lifestyle writer living in Brooklyn, New York with her cat, Batman. She hosts the sex, love, and dating advice show, Becca After Dark on YourTango's Facebook Page every Tuesday and Thursday at 10:15 pm Eastern. For more of her work, check out her Tumblr.