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BULNES: Weight Watchers free membership may be damaging to teens

Opinions Column: Mind Body Scarlet

Just when I thought America could not stray any further from the true importance of health, Weight Watchers announces that they will be offering free memberships to kids ages 13 to 17 for summer 2018. From the perspective of a future marketer, I understand the importance of brand loyalty and why building it is imperative to the success of a product or service. I acknowledge that identifying a clear target market and sending them a direct message ensures alignment with advertising efforts and overall company mission. But, I am also aware that companies who reap benefits from the perversion of America’s youth fail to understand that before business tactics, there were morals. 

No amount of money made by Weight Watchers for marketing to teens will ever exceed the billions that will be spent in trying to rectify the damage imposed on these children later in life. Putting teens on diet plans and tracking every food that enters their mouths at such a young age has the potential to form eating disorders. Their overall mental health will suffer, because, for as long as they can remember, their self-worth and esteems were dependent upon numbers on a scale or points on a mobile app. These teenagers will be stuck in a constant cycle of falling on and off the diet bandwagon just like many other American adults are currently struggling with. 

Teens should be taught how to practice intuitive eating with the help of their families. If parents wish to correct their child’s eating habits at a young age or encourage a natural weight loss, they should be showing them the importance of the food pyramid and creating balanced meals instead of putting their mental and physical health in the hands of influencers and businesspeople. At the end of the day, Weight Watchers makes decisions that support the company and its shareholders. It is every parent’s job to refuse its initiatives in order to keep their child’s best interest in mind.

Proponents of this company and its program will capitalize on the weight loss of success stories that have been documented over time. What no one has documented is the amount of people who have stopped using the program and gained the weight back, only to end up back on the program. Repeat customers are great for Weight Watchers, but is this great for teens? This initiative creates lifelong dieters which is the opposite of what modern health and wellness advocates want. We want teens to understand the food pyramid — to be able to look at an assortment of foods and create balanced meals by understanding the body’s need for essentials like protein, carbs, healthy fats and fiber. We want to show them that healthy foods can also be delicious. The younger they are, the easier it is to do this. Parents have the ability to control what foods enter the home and wait for their children at the dinner table. The last thing these teens need is to become dependent upon an app that essentially micromanages their consumption.

When asked in an interview who Weight Watchers' biggest competition is, President and CEO Mindy Grossman said, “People ask me who our biggest competition is and the reality is it's people believing they can do this themselves.” By enrolling teens in this program, parents are essentially saying that their child cannot learn healthy living habits on their own. This is hard to believe since they have not even had a fighting chance. People come to realizations about their health at different ages, some sooner than others. But children ages 13 to 17 are just starting to realize the importance of wellness. By starting these teens on the Weight Watchers program at such a young age, Grossman is destroying any chance that they will learn how to understand nutrition without investing in her company for years to come. Instead of making children believe they need to worry about the point values of their food, we should be teaching them how to make healthy choices on their own so they can avoid diet companies who make a living off of convincing them otherwise.

Think about what it is like to be between the ages of 13 and 17. Making friends, getting good grades and discovering who you are receive highest priority. Those needs are combined with health classes, balanced meal programs reaching lunch rooms, a sport or club for everyone and gym classes. This is what we need for teens — a capitalization on programs that already exist and coincide with other necessities of today’s youth. Enticing them to a program that can permanently damage their relationships with food, their bodies and their self-esteems is immoral and the worst possible way to help.

Monica Bulnes is a School of Arts and Sciences senior majoring in economics and minoring in business administration. Her column, "Mind Body Scarlet," runs on alternate Thursdays.


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