by Lisa Naylor
Weight Watchers has recently announced a “free” six week program for teens. But it is not free. Not by a long shot. Let us break it down for you.
There is the cost of setting your kids up for a lifetime of diet cycling which will continue to profit Weight Watchers and other diet companies in the long term. Canadians spend approximately 7 billion dollars annually pursuing weight loss. While some people who diet may lose weight in the short term, most of them – at least 95% – will regain any weight lost and more.
There is the cost of ruining your child’s chances of having a healthy relationship with food. Diets teach children to ignore their hunger signals and to feel afraid of certain foods. Instead we should be focusing on adequate nourishment and trusting our bodies.
There is the cost to mental health. In one British study of 14 – 15 year old teens, girls who engaged in strict dieting practices were 18 times more likely to develop an eating disorder within six months. Even girls who dieted moderately were five times more likely to develop an eating disorder within 6 months. This can include bulimia, binge eating disorder or anorexia. Anorexia has the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric illness – it is estimated that 10% of individuals with Anorexia will die within 10 years of the onset of the disorder.
And then there is the cost to physical health. Restricting intake can lead to thinning bones, delayed brain development and a decrease in normal hormone levels. Teens who struggle with their body image are also less likely to be physically active, more likely to turn to binge eating and other unhealthy forms of coping.
Weight Watchers is not a benevolent humanitarian organization who has your child’s well-being in mind. Over the past few years this multi-billion dollar company has had to seek new and innovative ways to increase profits for its shareholders. By marketing to teens, they increase the possibility of lifetime customers. They are growing their customer base by marketing body shame to a younger audience.
Let’s put the shame where it belongs, on companies like Weight Watchers that put profits ahead of children’s physical and mental health.
Are you worried about your child’s weight? Don’t collude with the profitable diet industry, try these (actually free!) tips instead:
- Be a role model. Demonstrate respect and appreciation for your own body and avoid self-criticism or criticizing other people’s bodies.
- Prepare your children for the weight gain that is a normal and healthy part of puberty and adolescence.
- Offer support and reassurance for body changes. Intervene to address weight-based teasing or stigma they may be experiencing.
- If your child is taller, heavier, or differently shaped than their peers, be creative and assertive in finding clothing and sports equipment that fit.
- Demonstrate a balanced approach to eating and teach your kids to recognize natural hunger and fullness cues.
- Carbohydrates, fats, and proteins are all important nutrients. Teach kids to eat for energy, health, and pleasure.
- Initiate active family outings like bike rides, dog walking, or weekend hikes.
- Share any concerns about your child’s eating behaviours or body image with a health professional.
These tips initially appeared in Alive Magazine (Sept ’15) Am I Pretty Or Ugly: Why A Child’s Body Image Matters by Lisa Naylor
Lisa Naylor is a counsellor in the Provincial Eating Disorder Prevention and Recovery Program at Women’s Health Clinic.