wake up, weight watchers

We’re slacking on the people that need the most support. And these people are Weight Watchers’ newest target market.

Teens 13-17 years old have become a focus for the Weight Watchers program. Starting this summer, this age group can get a free membership to start counting calories or points. This what what the company totes as a major goal, straight from their latest press release:

“Weight Watchers intends to be a powerful partner for families in establishing healthy habits. During the summer of 2018, Weight Watchers will offer free memberships to teenagers aged 13 to 17, helping the development of healthy habits at a critical life stage.”

Making a business.

While Weight Watchers is intending to focus upon developing a healthy lifestyle for all people, at the end of the day, they’re a business. A successful one, at that.

The dieting and weight loss industry have been some of the most lucrative, hitting a peak in 1991 where 31 percent of people had invested some money into it. But numbers have been stagnant and have even been declining as society has brought greater attention to harmful dieting behaviors and the lack of long-term results.

Less often are we saying “I need to lose weight,” and instead are making the goal to “become healthier.” We’re becoming less convinced of what weight-loss commercials are spewing at us and are relying more on holistic methods to stay truly healthy for life. As you can guess, businesses like Weight Watchers, losing revenue every quarter, aren’t too happy about that. But think about how smart it is for Weight Watchers to find loyal customers young enough to keep buying into the program for years to come? That sounds like a solid business plan.

Get hip with the teens.

Weight Watchers is obviously trying to gain back its traction by targeting a vulnerable group of people not yet aware of all the dieting world offers. This includes lining up enticing offers of free services for young people and signing on endorsers like DJ Khaled who have way more social media followers than one can fathom.

As if young people weren’t already immersed in messages to get slim, go on a diet, work out, and every option in between to look like that Instagram model. If anything, we’re the most aware we’ve ever been of all the negative influences out there trying to make a profit off our declining mental health.

Maybe not the most obvious of connections, but I find similarities between advertising to a younger audiences in other industries…like tobacco. Start young, make it look hip to buy into, and keep a loyal customer constantly coming back for more.

More harm than good.

Unlike tobacco, there is no legal age you can start a diet. We don’t necessarily call it an addiction or vice if someone is always on-and-off dieting. But it’s just as dangerous.

Dieting is an integrated into our lives as anything else perceived to make us more successful in this world. If you’re fit and toned, that’s just another box to check in “living the dream.”

Teens will need parents’ permission to initially sign up for Weight Watchers, but the scary thought is, how many parents would stop their teen from doing so? They might even encourage it, especially if it means they’ll get up off the couch and stop snacking on Doritos.

13 is around the age you start paying more attention to what you eat and what affect it has on your body. It’s a natural transition then to label what foods are “good” and “bad,” and why not point out the numbers on the nutritional label? Put a point value on every bite you eat, fitting your day into a specified quota?

The relationship we have with our bodies, at an age when they begin to morph into seemingly alien entities in puberty, is already fragile. The fact Weight Watchers want to turn low self-esteem, insecurity, and shame into profit is downright cruel.

Hello, disordered eating.

I speak from personal experience. 13 is probably around the age my anorexia first manifested itself. It’s when I was the most uncomfortable with my body, when I felt outside pressures subtly suggesting I should “become healthier.” That led to a downhill spiral and a treacherous mountain I’ve climbed and fallen off of for going on 8 years.

I’m not alone in this, seeing unrealistic expectations for what my body should be and punishing myself for not being that. Once you adopt a mentality that looks past food and health and obsesses over calories, pounds, and inches, it’s beyond challenging to ever go back.

The National Eating Disorders Association has found 35 percent of “normal” dieters can develop disordered eating. Half of teenage girls and one-third of teenage boys use dangerous weight control methods — such as smoking, laxative abuse, and skipping meals — in an attempt to meet unrealistic body ideals.

A diet might seem innocent to begin with and even well-intentioned, but the long-term effects of yo-yoing and sliding into disordered eating far surpass the temporary results you might achieve. Those results do not reflect health: they are simply a show of discipline and adherence to a man-made protocol to stay within the numerical boundaries.

And for what? To deprive your body of key nutrients while it’s trying to grow into adulthood? To fit into a certain clothing size that is already arbitrary when every store is different? To reach a goal weight that, once reaching it, doesn’t equate to happiness?

There’s a reason we have hunger cues. There’s a reason our bodies naturally weigh and look as they do. Our bodies serve as our vessels to enjoy life, and food is the energy we need to thrive. We cannot measure health on a scale or fit it into a pair of jeans or a points program. What we need is more talk of body acceptance, of lifelong wellness for mind, body and soul.

Sorry, Weight Watchers, but teens aren’t a market you can bank on for easy money and manipulation. We’re human beings, worthy of a full life not defined by numbers and fed by false hopes. You think there’s a real opportunity to make an impact on a problem that is not currently being addressed effectively? I think the problem we really need to address is the physical and mental health of our young people and the connection to the most deadly mental illness.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie

share your thoughts