Kurbo by WWFree, $69/month for coaching (optional)
Author identity and qualifications10.0/10
Scientific basis of program10.0/10
Presentation of program8.0/10
- Backed by 30 years of scientific research
- No food is disallowed
- Easy to use free app. Only pay if you want to be coached
- Kurbo is at least trying to do something about childhood obesity problem
- Not satisfied with qualifications of virtual coaches
- Use of before-after photos of kids to market program
- Coaching fee isn't cheap
On Tuesday 13th August 2019, WW (Weight Watchers) put out a press release announcing the launch of Kurbo, a ‘lifestyle’ program designed for children and teens aged 8 to 17. But the announcement has triggered a lot of intense criticism from parents, professionals and the usual outrage enthusiasts who feel that WW is exploiting impressionable children and teenagers and putting them at risk of developing eating disorders and other related mental problems. But is this criticism credible and worth considering? Well in this review you are going to find out all about this program, why it was developed, and why WW should not be crucified for trying to proffer a solution to the obesity epidemic currently ravaging minors in the US.
Oh, quick disclaimer: I have NOT been paid by anyone to write this review. Everything you are about to read is purely my honest opinion on this issue and it’s not influenced by any monetary coercion by WW or its partners. Having said that, let’s begin, shall we?
What is Kurbo?
Kurbo is a mobile health company founded in 2014, but WW acquired it in 2018 for $3 million in order to design a wellness program specifically for children and teenagers from age 8 to 17. According to their press release, Kurbo is ‘a scientifically-proven behavior change program designed to help kids and teens ages 8-17 reach a healthier weight.’ They go on to say that their program is ‘derived from Stanford University’s Pediatric Weight Control Program.’ This Stanford program in turn, is the result of 30 years of research involving experts in the pediatric and psychiatric health fields.
From the press release:
“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,” said Joanna Strober, co-founder of Kurbo. “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.”
Kurbo by WW provides simple, science-based tools to help its members with weight management and overall well-being, on a platform kids and teens are comfortable using.
Kurbo doesn’t market itself as a diet program. In fact, users get to pick what they want to eat…with a unique, ‘fun’ twist to it. More on that in the next section.
How Kurbo Works
Kurbo works by providing what it calls the ‘traffic lights’ system. In this system, all foods are allowed, but are classified according to the three traffic lights green, yellow and red.
1. Green. Foods classified under the ‘green’ light are considered free to eat at any quantity and at any time you like. These foods include all fruits and vegetables.
2. Yellow. Foods under the ‘yellow’ light are equally great to eat anytime, but unlike the green light foods, you’ll have to watch the quantity or portion you eat. Foods in this category include lean proteins and pasta.
3. Red. Foods under this ‘red’ light are still free to eat, however, you have to think twice before deciding to put them in your daily diet. As Kurbo puts it, ‘You don’t have to give them up–just stop and think how to budget them in.’ The foods in this category includes things like candy and soda, you know, the sugary stuff kids crave all the time.
Kurbo also provides a free app where users can track their progress, learn stuff like meditating and breathing exercises, play fun games and toy with different food recipes.
If that’s not enough, Kurbo also provides a paid personal virtual coaching feature, where each user is assigned a personal coach who will arrange a 15-minute video chat once a week to monitor their client’s progress, offer guidance, and address any personal concerns. Speaking of coaches:
Kurbo by WW Coaches: Who are They?
The Kurbo website has a page containing a brief profile of their personal coaches and from what I can see, only one of them has any formal medical training. Most of them are in the fitness field or in the convoluted wellness industry.
This fact has also elicited criticism from people who feel that these coaches are not qualified enough for the job given them. It also doesn’t help matters that you have to pay for this coaching service. I’ll talk more about this later in this review so stay tuned!
Pricing and Availability of Kurbo
The Kurbo app is free to use and it is available in the Apple and Google Play app stores. The only paid feature is the personal virtual coaching, which starts at $69 a month.
Please note that the Kurbo app is only available in the United States as at the time of writing this review. From what I understand, there are plans to later expand the program globally in the near future.
Kurbo by WW Controversy: Why the Outrage?
Shortly after WW announced their launch of Kurbo, it was almost immediately greeted with a lot of online backlash from people who feel that a company known for weight loss is now targeting children. Critics fear that targeting children with weight loss programs like Kurbo by WW will only damage their mental health and lead to them developing eating disorders. Others accused the company of trying to profit off of children, deception and ‘preying on parents’ fears.’
Here are examples of reviews left on the Kurbo app listing at Google Play:
The backlash was so intense that two Change.org petitions were created urging people to not use the app and calling on WW to remove it. As at the time of writing this review, both petitions have gathered a total of over 94,000 signatures.
‘This app is extremely dangerous to growing children’s mental and physical wellbeing and can lead to life-threatening disordered eating and eating disorders,’ one of the petitions argued. ‘With eating disorders on the rise, the American Academy of Pediatrics does not recommend talking about weight, weight loss, or food tracking with kids.’ They then go ahead to list the 10 issues they have with Kurbo:
10 THINGS WRONG WITH KURBO:
1.) Targets vulnerable children between the ages of 8-17
2.) Tracking food intake and exercise normalizes an obsession with food and weight
3.) Promotes the idea that food is either good or bad with their “stop light” approach
4.) Promotes the idea that confidence is dependent on body size and/or weight
5.) Promotes using weight as the sole indicator of health
6.) No medical clearance needed for kids to sign up
7.) Weight loss coaches are not required to have a degree in evidence-based dietetics
8.) Targets children that are prepubescent and going through puberty where kids between 11 and 14 gain on average between 30 to 40 pounds and can gain 30 pounds or more in one year
9.) Promotes the idea that parents happiness/proudness is derived from accomplishments around weight
10. Uses before and after photos
The other petition also says the same thing.
Kurbo Backlash: What Experts Are Saying
After searching around the internet for a while, it appears that not many diet experts reacted at all to the Kurbo launch. However, the ones I saw were critical, with almost all of them having issues with Weight Watchers publishing before-after photos of kids and teens to market their program. Those photos have since been taken down though.
Also, there is this letter supposedly from ‘health professionals’ condemning Kurbo and demanding the ‘immediate removal of the Kurbo Health app on all hosting platforms, suspension of all related Kurbo social media accounts, and dismantling of the Kurbo website.’ Interestingly, this letter was signed by mostly female ‘health professionals.’ And on top of that, there is no way of verifying if those signing the letter are indeed health professionals since they are using Google Forms to collect the signatures and all you need to do is to simply write your credentials in the form.
WW’s Response To Kurbo Backlash
WW released a series of tweets on August 15 addressing many of the concerns raised by people online. ‘WW’s mission is to inspire healthy habits for everyone, and that includes families!’ the company tweeted. ‘It’s why we see it as our responsibility to help kids & teens, and why we acquired Kurbo: to help us move toward our goal of making wellness accessible to all.’
On the issue of their program potentially causing eating disorders, WW assured, ‘Studies show that programs like Kurbo, which focuses on behavior change for healthier eating and more activity, not dieting or calorie-counting, don’t cause eating disorders. Kurbo provides kids with tools to make balanced food choices and manage their weight in a healthy way.’
‘Kurbo focuses on behavior change for healthier eating and more activity, not dieting or calorie-counting, don’t cause eating disorders. Kurbo provides kids with tools to make balanced food choices and manage their weight in a healthy way.’
And on the issue of their Kurbo coaches not being qualified for the job, WW responded, ‘Parents are such an important part of the Kurbo program: they’re invited to participate in Kurbo coaching calls and provided with information on how to best support their child on Kurbo.’
‘Our Kurbo coaches go through rigorous training on the Kurbo curriculum, behavior change, and health coaching so they’re super prepared to guide kids and teens toward their wellness goals,’ WW continued. ‘Our Kurbo coaches have all worked with kids and teens & have experience in couseling, education, fitness, &/or nutrition. Each coach completes a thorough background check & receives extensive training on the Kurbo program, behavior change, and health coaching.’
The Sun UK further reports:
Speaking about the app, Gary Foster, PhD, Chief Scientific Officer at WW, said: “At WW, we have decades of expertise in scaling science-backed behaviour change programs, uniquely positioning us to be a part of the solution to address the prevalent public health problem of childhood obesity.”
He adds: “Alongside a distinguished group of leaders in paediatric health and nutrition, we’ve carefully developed this platform to be holistic, rewarding and inspirational so kids, teens and families get the tools and guidance they need to manage their environment and build and sustain healthy habits.”
WW in the US said it has collaborated with the Youth Advisory Panel – a team of leading healthcare professionals and academic experts in paediatric health and nutrition from around the globe.
They recognised a clear need for an engaging, scalable, family-based program designed specifically for kids and teens.
Contra Health Scam’s Professional Opinion: Why Kurbo Should NOT Be Controversial
In my opinion, I think that the concerns raised by parents over what Kurbo is offering is justified. Psychiatric problems due to dieting is indeed a risk worth considering. However, it is disappointing to see that the most vocal opponents of this program are offering absolutely NOTHING as an alternative to tackle the childhood obesity problem. In fact, I saw many of these online critics advocating for the ‘health at every size’ rhetoric, saying that we shouldn’t do anything to help our children achieve healthy weight.
For example, ‘registered dietitian nutritionist’ Christy Harrison in her critical op-ed at New York Times, concluded (emphasis mine):
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.
In other words, we shouldn’t attempt to help our kids achieve healthy weight but rather we should help them become comfortable in their bodies at any size. Okay. I get the context of the dieting part. But what if the kid is a glutton who consumes anything that comes his way, and is ballooning to obesity levels as a result? Should we trust that kid’s ‘wisdom about food’?
Oh and sometimes we put kids on a diet to help them recover from certain ailments (type 1 diabetes, epilepsy). So what is so wrong or bad about putting kids on a diet?
Pros of Kurbo
- It is developed by a company successful in helping people lose weight and be healthy
- It is scientifically backed, based on 30 years of research
- No food is disallowed. You can eat whatever you want
- You don’t need to pay money before you can use the program. Only pay if you want to be coached…and there is a 7 day free trial.
- App is easy to use. Has lots of information and is fun to use by kids
- Testimonials are not stock or stolen photos, no scammy advertising
- Kurbo at least acknowledges that there is a childhood obesity problem and is trying to do something about it
- I’m personally not satisfied with the qualifications of the virtual coaches. WW should have done better in this regard, especially considering the fact that this is the paid feature of the program. Well they claim that these coaches underwent ‘extensive training’ and are qualified for the job so we’ll see.
- Even though they have fixed this issue, I still have to say it: I don’t agree with their decision to publish before-after photos of kids and teens. Such marketing should be reserved for adults.
- The cost of coaching is kinda expensive at $69 per month.
Final Conclusion: YES, TRY Kurbo by WW!
Whitelisted Website: Kurbo.com
In conclusion, Kurbo is far from a perfect wellness program for children and teens. The backlash surrounding its launch is justified. But most of the opponents of this program have absolutely nothing to offer as an alternative to tackle the very real childhood obesity problem. So until they come up with a program or suggestions that will lead to less childhood obesity, Kurbo stays and gets my stamp of approval.
Again, please note that WW did NOT pay or ask for this positive review, and I don’t demand monetary payments before writing positive reviews. This is entirely my opinion and decision, and there are NO affiliate links in this article.