- Weight Watchers recently introduced a new app called Kurbo, which is aimed at helping adolescents between the ages of 8-17 lose weight.
- Some are happy to see the company create an easy to use app for the millions of children struggling with their weight.
- But many parents and nutritionists worry that the app could promote unhealthy relationships with food and worsen or create body image issues and eating disorders.
WW Launches Kurbo
More than 80,000 people have signed a Change.org petition calling for Weight Watchers to remove its new weight loss app aimed at children.
Weight Watchers, which now calls itself WW, introduced a new app called Kurbo last week, saying the program is designed “to help kids and teens ages 8-17 reach a healthier weight,” according to a WW press release.
In 2018, WW acquired the nutrition app, which is based on Stanford University’s pediatric obesity program and “30 years of clinical nutrition and behavior change research,” according to the app’s website.
After purchasing Kurbo, WW spent about a year developing it, adding in features like breathing-exercise instructions, a Snapchat-inspired interface, and multi-day streaks to encourage daily activity.
Users in the U.S. can download the free app, add in their height, weight, age, and health goals, and begin logging in what they eat. In their statement announcing the program, WW explained that Kurbo uses the “Traffic Light System” to guide adolescents towards healthy food choices.
“Kids and teens are encouraged to eat more of the healthy “green light” foods (such as fruits and veggies), be mindful of portions of “yellow light” foods (such as lean protein, whole grains and dairy) and gradually reduce but still include consumption of “red light” foods (such as sugary drinks and treats),” the statement reads.
Users can also consult with a personal coach through the app for a fee, starting at $69 a month. This gives them access to 15-minute video chat sessions with Kurbo coaches every week.
Kurbo says their coaches are “specially-trained, Kurbo-certified and come from a diverse range of professional backgrounds including counseling, fitness and nutrition-related fields.”
The company also claims that its mission is to help kids build long-lasting healthy habits.
“According to recent reports from the World Health Organization, childhood obesity is one of the most serious public health challenges of the 21st century. This is a global public health crisis that needs to be addressed at scale,” Joanna Strober, co-founder of Kurbo, said in a statement released by WW.
“As a mom whose son struggled with his weight at a young age, I can personally attest to the importance and significance of having a solution like Kurbo by WW, which is inherently designed to be simple, fun and effective.”
Fans of WW are supportive of the app, saying they hope the company can transform the lives of children the way it has for so many adults. Others point out that millions of young people struggle with their weight, so it is important to have easily accessible tools to help with weight loss.
About 13.7 million U.S. children between 2-19-year-old are obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. However, the CDC uses data based on body mass index (BMI), a measurement based on weight and height that many health professionals have slammed as arbitrary and inaccurate.
Despite some support, many parents and nutritionists are concerned that Kurbo can create unhealthy relationships with food at a highly impressionable time in a child’s life. In fact, some studies suggest that childhood weight loss efforts can lead to or worsen eating disorders and body image issues.
Critics have also expressed concerns about specific points on the app, including the success stories section which shows before and after photos of children as young as eight, along with their weight loss totals and testimonials.
“Looking at before and after pictures of kids who have lost weight is absolutely something that could lead to children to feel horrible about themselves and it really is a form of body shaming,” Keri Glassman, a New York City-based registered dietitian told Good Morning America.
“They could have created an app for children that promoted healthy eating and healthy lifestyle and good health education and information and help children boost confidence,” she said. “But I feel like the way this app was built is so similar to Weight Watchers, and just geared completely towards weight loss, weight loss, weight loss.”
Others have criticized the goals section on the app, which includes the options: eat healthier, lose weight, make parents happy, get stronger and fitter, have more energy, boost my confidence, or feel better in my clothes.
Kurbo has stressed that the app is meant to be a “family-based-approach,” but many say that working to lose weight to satisfy family members can be damaging and parents handing their child this app can make them feel like something is wrong with them.
Nutritionists have also criticized the coaches, who they argue are not health-care experts. Based on staff descriptions on the app’s website, the trained experts include people with degrees in economics, tourism management, and communications.
However, WW responded to this with WW’s Chief Scientific Officer Gary Foster telling CNBC: “If we want to live our purpose of making wellness accessible to all and doing it outside an academic medical center, we’re not going to be able to hire pediatricians, dietitians, exercise physiologists and psychologists.”
“What we do well is take science and scale it, measure the impact to make sure we’re living up to our purpose.”
WW was likely expecting some backlash over the app, but still, many are sharing the petition that calls for its removal to spread awareness about the concerns. Holly Stallcup, the woman who started the petition told GMA that she is recovering from an eating disorder herself.
“The story that you are hearing over and over again is all of us who started struggling at the age that this app is targeted for saying it was already bad enough without an app,” she said.
“If we had had this app in our hands to literally log every bite of food to eat, we know that some of us would have actually died from our diseases because it would have so enabled our unhealthy, mentally ill thinking.”
The petition quickly spread online and has even been shared by Good Place actress Jamella Jamil, a vocal advocate for body positivity.
Christy Harrison, a registered dietitian who specializes in helping people recover from disordered eating, penned an opinion piece in The New York Times warning parents not to let their children use this app, or other similar weight loss programs.
“Our society is unfair and cruel to people who are in larger bodies, so I can empathize with parents who might believe their child needs to lose weight, and with any child who wants to,” she wrote. “Unfortunately, attempts to shrink a child’s body are likely to be both ineffective and harmful to physical and mental health.”
“If we truly want to help children be the healthiest and happiest people they can be, we need to stop putting them on diets of any kind, which are likely to worsen their overall well-being. Instead, we need to start teaching them to trust their own inner wisdom about food. And we need to help them make peace with their bodies, at any size,” she added
Misinformation Makes Up 20% of Top Search Results For Current Events on TikTok, New Research Finds
According to the report, the app “is consistently feeding millions of young users health misinformation, including some claims that could be dangerous to users’ health.”
Misinformation Thrives on TikTok
As TikTok becomes Gen Z’s favorite search engine, new research by journalism and tech group NewsGuard found that the video app frequently suggests misinformation to users searching for news-related topics.
NewsGuard used TikTok’s search bar to look up trending news subjects like the 2020 election, COVID-19, the invasion of Ukraine, the upcoming midterms, abortion, school shootings, and more. It analyzed 540 videos based on the top 20 results from 27 subject searches, finding false or misleading claims in 105 of those posts.
In other words, roughly 20% of the results contained misinformation.
Some of NewsGuard’s searches contained neutral phrases and words like “2022 election” or “mRNA vaccine,” while others were loaded with more controversial language like “January 6 FBI” or “Uvalde TX conspiracy.” In many cases, those controversial phrases were suggested by TikTok’s own search bar.
The researchers noted that, for example, during a search on climate change, “climate change debunked” showed up. While looking up COVID-19 vaccines, searches for “covid vaccine injury” or “covid vaccine exposed” were recommended.
Dangerous Results Regarding Health and More
The consequences of some of the false claims made in these videos can be severe. NewsGuard wrote in its report that the search engine “is consistently feeding millions of young users health misinformation, including some claims that could be dangerous to users’ health.”
Among the hoards of hazardous health claims were videos falsely suggesting that COVID-19 vaccines are toxic and cause permanent damage to organs. The report found that there are still several videos touting the anti-parasite hydroxychloroquine as a cure-all remedy, not just for COVID, but for any illness.
Searches regarding herbal abortions were particularly troublesome. While certain phrases like “mugwort abortion” were blocked, the researchers found several ways around this that lead to multiple videos touting debunked DIY abortion remedies that are not only proven to be ineffective, but can also pose serious health risks.
NewsGuard claimed that the social media app vowed to remove this content in July, but “two months later, herbal abortion content continues to be easily accessible on the platform.”
Other standard forms of conspiracy fodder also occupied space in top search results, including claims that the Uvalde school shooting was planned and that the 2020 presidential election was stolen.
TikTok’s Search Engine Vs. Google
As part of its research, NewsGuard compared TikTok’s search results and suggestions with Google and found that, by comparison, the latter “provided higher-quality and less-polarizing results, with far less misinformation.”
“For example, searching ‘covid vaccine’ on Google prompted ‘walk-in covid vaccine,’ ‘which covid vaccine is best,’ and ‘types of covid vaccines,’” NewsGuard wrote. “None of these terms was suggested by TikTok.”
This is significant because recent reports show that young Internet users have increasingly turned to TikTok as a search engine over Google. While this might elicit safe results for pasta recipes and DIY tutorials, for people searching for current affairs, there could be significant consequences.
NewsGuard said that it flagged six videos containing misinformation to TikTok, and the social media app ended up taking those posts down. In a statement to Mashable, the company pledged to fight against misinformation on its platform.
“Our Community Guidelines make clear that we do not allow harmful misinformation, including medical misinformation, and we will remove it from the platform,” the statement said. “We partner with credible voices to elevate authoritative content on topics related to public health, and partner with independent fact-checkers who help us to assess the accuracy of content.”
Over 70 TikTok Creators Boycott Amazon as Workers Protest Conditions and Pay
As the company fends off pressure on both fronts, the Amazon Labor Union continues to back election petitions around the country including one filed Tuesday in upstate New York.
Gen Z Goes to War With Amazon
More than 70 big TikTok creators have pledged not to work with Amazon until it gives in to union workers’ demands, including calls for higher pay, safer working conditions, and increased paid time off.
Twenty-year-old TikToker Elise Joshi, who serves as deputy executive director for the advocacy group organizing the boycott, Gen Z for Change, posted an open letter on Twitter Tuesday.
“Dear Amazon.com,” it reads, “We are a coalition of over 70 TikTok creators with a combined following of 51 million people. Today, August 16th, 2022, we are joining together in solidarity with Amazon workers and union organizers through our People Over Prime Pledge.”
Amazon has refused to recognize the Amazon Labor Union (ALU) since workers voted to unionize at a Staten Island warehouse in April, and it has resisted collective bargaining negotiations.
Although the ALU is not involved in the boycott, its co-founder and interim President Chris Smalls expressed support for it in a statement to The Washington Post, saying, “It’s a good fight to take on because Amazon definitely is afraid of how we used TikTok during our campaigns.”
While the ALU posts videos on TikTok to drum up popular support for the labor movement, Amazon has sought to win large influencers over to its side. In 2017, it launched the Amazon Influencer Program, which offered influencers the opportunity to earn revenue by recommending products in personalized Amazon storefronts.
Last May, the company flew over a dozen Instagram, YouTube, and TikTok stars to a luxurious resort in Mexico.
Emily Rayna Shaw, a TikTok creator with 5.4 million followers who has partnered with Amazon in the past, is participating in the boycott.
“I think their method of offering influencers life-changing payouts to make them feel as if they need to work with them while also refusing to pay their workers behind the scenes is extremely wrong,” she told The Post.
“As an influencer, it’s important to choose the right companies to work with,” said Jackie James, a 19-year-old TikTok creator with 3.4 million followers, who told the outlet she will cease doing deals with Amazon until it changes its ways.
The ALU is demanding that Amazon bump its minimum wage to $30 per hour and stop its union-busting activities.
Slogging Through the ‘Suffocating’ Heat
Amazon is also facing challenges from workers themselves, with some walking out this week at its largest air hub in California, where company-branded planes transport packages to warehouses across the country.
They are asking for the base pay rate to be raised from $17 per hour to $22 per hour.
A group organizing the work stoppage under the name Inland Empire Amazon Workers United said in a statement that over 150 workers participated, but Amazon countered that the true number was only 74.
The Warehouse Worker Resource Center counted 900 workers who signed a petition demanding pay raises.
Inland Empire Amazon Workers United has complained about the “suffocating” heat in the facility, saying that temperatures at the San Bernardino airport reached 95 degrees Fahrenheit or higher for 24 days last month.
Amazon spokesperson Paul Flaningan, however, claimed to CNBC that the temperature never surpassed 77 degrees and said the company respects its workers’ right to voice their opinions.
On Tuesday, the ALU backed another warehouse’s decision to file a petition for a union election in upstate New York, roughly 10 miles outside Albany.
The National Labor Relations Board requires signatures from 30% of employees to trigger an election.
See what others are Saying: (The Washington Post (CNBC) (Associated Press)
Twitter Roasts Tim Hortons for Offering Coffee and Donut to Settle Lawsuit for Spying on Customers
The company allegedly tracked app users’ movements 24/7 to determine when they visited a competitor, a major sports venue, or their home or workplace.
A Not So Tasty Compensation
Social media users ridiculed Canadian fast food chain Tim Hortons over the weekend for a leaked email in which it offered to compensate customers whom it allegedly spied on by giving them a free beverage and pastry.
Twitter user James McLeod posted pictures of the email Friday, which was sent to affected users of the company’s app.
“You are receiving this email in connection with a proposed settlement, subject to Court approval, of a national class action lawsuit involving the Tim Hortons app and the collection of geolocation data between April 1, 2019 and September 30, 2020,” it read.
“As part of the proposed settlement agreement, eligible app users will receive a free hot beverage and a free baked good,” it continued. “Distribution details will be provided following approval, in the event that the court approves the settlement.”
The email specified that the free beverage would have a retail value of $6.19 (CAD) plus tax, and the free baked good would be $2.39 (CAD).
In a statement to Vice, Tim Hortons said the settlement is not admission of any wrongdoing and that the allegations in the lawsuits have not been proven in court.
“Add to this the fact that the coffee is absolutely abysmal and it becomes even more hilarious,” one person tweeted amid a flurry of criticism toward the company.
Another added, “Do you think the donut will have the good sprinkles or the bad sprinkles?”
‘Vast Amounts’ of Data Collected Illegally
Suspicion that Tim Hortons had violated its customers’ privacy began in 2020 when a reporter from the National Post found that the company’s app had tracked their location over 2,700 times in under five months.
Last Month, Canadian authorities wrapped up an investigation into the matter, finding that Tim Hortons tracked and recorded the movements of people who downloaded its app every few minutes of every day, even when the app wasn’t open.
Although the app requested permission to access geolocation data, authorities concluded that it misled users to believe it would only gather data while the app was open.
Using “vast amounts” of geolocation data, the company inferred where users lived, where they worked and whether they were traveling, according to investigators.
It even allegedly generated an “event” anytime a user entered or exited a Tim Hortons competitor, a major sports venue, or their home or workplace.
The investigation found that the company continued gathering data for a year even despite having shelved plans to use it for targeted advertising.
The company, which has committed to deleting all geolocation data on group members, said in a statement that it only used the data in a limited way, such as to analyze user trends.