Weight Watchers is to offer teenagers free membership in a move the firm says will encourage healthier eating habits and help curb obesity.
Joining fees will be waived during this year’s summer holiday.
‘Encouraging Healthy Habits’
The announcement was made at a global employee event by the company’s CEO, Mindy Grossman. “We will give all teens ages 13 to 17 free access to Weight Watchers when they join with an adult in summer 18 helping those who need healthy habits develop them at a critical life stage,” she said.
“And we’re very excited about the potential impact this could make on the next generation and on families as a whole.”
Weight Watchers is one of the largest commercial providers of weight management services in the world. In 2016, it had approximately 1.2 million active members.
The Weight Watchers technique involves a reduced- calorie, low fat diet.
People following the diet are allowed to eat and drink what they like as long as they stick to a daily points allowance.
We asked Linia Patel, a registered dietitian and spokesperson for the British Dietetic Association (BDA), what she thought of the offer.
“Ironically, free weight loss services are generally not well subscribed to and have poor long-term results,” she says. “So, I think Weight Watchers is probably just looking to try to recruit but it’s not necessarily thought its marketing strategy out very well.”
She is sceptical that the free membership offer for teenagers is anything more than a publicity stunt or a recruitment drive. “There’s little evidence to show that this kind of approach actually works for teenagers or that it’s got any meaningful benefit,” she tells us.
“What we know in terms of addressing obesity in children in teenagers is that we have to address the family circumstances and the psycho-social reasons why they’re obese. Weight Watchers does not focus on that whatsoever. It focuses on foods, it focuses on calories, and it focuses on points.
And she says she is concerned that the style of diet may have unintended consequences. “If we start getting teenagers and children just to focus purely on calories and not understand nutrients in food and that some foods are more nutritious than other foods, then that could lead to a higher prevalence of disordered eating.”
Linia Patel, registered dietitian