Weight loss app target at children and teenagers aged 8-17 has spark concern among health professionals and parents around the world. More than 90,000 people have signed an online petition calling for withdrawal of an app called Kurbo. Kurbo was launch in 2014. WW (formerly Weight Watchers) bought it last year and have recently relaunch it. It’s currently only available in the United States; but we could see it launch in Australia.
Overweight and obesity affect one in four Australian children and adolescents. Excess weight is likely to persist into adulthood and is associated with the development of chronic disease. While there are calls for better treatment options; the way treatments for obesity are deliver is important. Unsupervised use of an app that encourages children to track their weight carries the danger of perpetuating body image issues and leading to disordered eating.
Weight Loss App
Technology and apps providing health services are growing in number; also can be convenient and cost effective. Importantly, families actually want to use technology for more flexibility in the way they receive nutritional support. In one study of a telehealth nutrition intervention with a website, Facebook group and text messages; so benefits include ease of self monitoring; also increase access to services for families living in regional or remote areas. This intervention result in improve eating habits in children.
Apps in particular are a promising option because they’re portable and can connect with other technologies. Kurbo was one of three apps targeted to children identify in a 2016 review of mobile apps for weight management. The version of the app evaluate at the time of the review was found to meet eight evidence base strategies for weight management: self-monitoring, goal-setting, physical activity support, healthy eating support, social support, gamification, and personalise feedback deliver via a health coach.
Technology evolves rapidly, so it’s unclear if these features all remain in the current version. As they’re base in Australia, and the app is only available in the US, we can’t access the app directly to verify this. Kurbo reports 90% of pilot study participants maintain or reduce their weight, and experience “higher levels of happiness; self-confidence and self-esteem”. But importantly, the app hasn’t research scientifically and independently.
Run obesity program
While Kurbo is design to develop healthy eating behaviours; the marketing materials send different messages. This includes the use of before and after pictures in children as young as eight years old to promote success stories. They don’t know how these will impact children; both in the short and long term. Children are at an age where body image is fragile due to changes occurring in preparation for, or during, puberty.
A recently publish review of 30 studies found professionally run obesity treatment programs; so conduct in children and adolescents; were with reduce eating disorder risk. Treatment programs include in the review involve regular face-to-face contact with a train professional; usually a dietitian, nutritionist or psychologist. This review highlights that mode of delivery; also length of contact are important aspects of weight management.
Weight loss is recommend, with the support of a health professional, for adolescents with moderate to severe obesity and/or those who have started to develop complications such as pre-diabetes. Treatment should be targeted to the individual lifestyle, and involve regular contact. If parents are concerned about their child’s weight, they should consult their GP or an Accredited Practising Dietitian; to assess if intervention is require, and suitable options.