Weight Watchers targets teenagers


Divya Nelakonda, News Editor

As part of an initiative to expand to a younger and more loyal customer base, Weight Watchers has announced that it will be launching a free six-week program in July for teens from ages 13 to 17. My immediate reaction to this program was one of discomfort. As someone who has personally been subject to pressure from peers and adults to resort to unhealthy eating habits as a means of losing weight, I understand that a skewed idea of body image and health can easily escalate into disordered eating. While Weight Watchers may advertise its program as a cost-efficient way to support health and wellness, it is clear that those who join may pay a hefty price for the seemingly free program.

The Weight Watchers program gives participants a daily point quota based on their height and weight, and participants can then “spend” these points on different foods. Additionally, fitness points can be earned through exercise. Members are encouraged to track their food intake, physical activity and weight, either at meetings or in their own homes.

Based on a sample Weight Watchers meal plan, the daily calorie intake totaled approximately 1400 calories, not to mention a negative intake from the exercise the program suggests. Most healthcare professionals, however, recommend intake for teenagers at a minimum 1600 to 1800 calories daily, and between 2200 and 2400 for active adolescents. While a weight loss program might be effective for some adults, most teenagers are still finding their weight and metabolic stability, and calorie restriction diets may interfere with proper development. Not only is the Weight Watchers’ teen program problematic because it interferes with the healthy physical development of adolescents, but it also encourages an unhealthy mentality.

The root of the problem is in how we educate young people about health and wellness. While they may seem attractive to young people, these “diets” are statistically ineffective in sustaining long-term weight loss. What they are effective in is internalizing toxic body and weight ideals, promoting disordered eating and encouraging an infatuation with food and weight.

Eating disorders are commonly rooted in a need for control. Teenagers, who are undergoing a time of mental and emotional turbulence, are especially susceptible to programs that advertise quick fixes for weight, and in turn, self-esteem. Even if Weight Watchers is truly trying to solve the growing issue of obesity, it may be encouraging disorders in the process of doing so. When a weight loss-program is made easily accessible, many teenagers will become vulnerable to a future of disordered eating and damaged body image.

Teenagers suffering from body dissatisfaction or eating disorders may be willing to sacrifice their health and well-being to lose weight, and Weight Watchers’ teen program serves as a vehicle for the perpetuation of unhealthy practices. By targeting a susceptible demographic, Weight Watchers is profiting off of a diet epidemic that equates health with a particular weight, BMI or body shape. Cereal isn’t meant to be weighed, calories aren’t meant to be tracked and weight isn’t meant to be indicative of health. I hope Weight Watchers will realize that its program has the potential to trigger a lifelong over-conscious attitude toward food and calories and reconsider its implementation accordingly.