STOP the weight watchers teen program

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June 19, 2018

Dear Mindy Grossman,

My name is Chrissy Chard, and I am the co-founder of a non-profit adolescent girls’ empowerment program called Smart Fit Girls, which aims to promote physical, mental and emotional health of adolescent girls. I have my PhD in Human Bioenergetics from the Health and Exercise Science Department at Colorado State University, and am currently an assistant professor with the Colorado School of Public Health. I am writing today to implore you to reconsider the Weight Watchers Teen program.

I am a prime example of the detrimental effects that your teen program will have on young women. At 16 years old, and at a completely “normal” body weight by BMI standards, I joined weight watchers. I quickly lost the recommended percentage of weight loss, achieving my goal weight and making me a “lifetime member”. Seventeen years later, I still remember the (healthy) weight I started at, and more importantly, my “goal weight”. For over a decade after that, I struggled with disordered eating and a complete obsession with food. The time and energy I spent thinking about food and calories and “points” was lost, never to be spent doing things like innovating, creating, building, designing, LIVING…doing the things that young women are meant to do.

As a researcher in the area of adolescent psychosocial health, I am all too familiar with the decades of research conducted that demonstrate both the physiological and (much more importantly) the psychological harm that dieting can have on adolescents. In a review paper on the effects of dieting specifically during adolescence, Daee et al. state “concerns about dieting include the possible association with cycles of weight loss and re-gain that increase the likelihood of developing eating disorders and obesity; decreased self-esteem and other psychologic issues; and potential increases in cardiovascular risk factors and mortality, both long-term and acute.”[1]

For many teens, adolescence represents a significant period of cognitive and emotional development, during which time they establish lifelong eating behaviors.[2] Unfortunately, during this same time period, teen girls are exposed to the unrealistically thin beauty ideal that is portrayed in the media.[3] This unrealistic ideal manifests itself through dieting, which studies show is prevalent in up to 66% of adolescent girls, regardless of their body size.[4] The high prevalence of dieting among teens of all body sizes underscores how common the distortion of body image already is among adolescents.[5] This perception of needing to lose weight, then, is an integral factor in a teenager’s decision to attempt weight loss, regardless of whether they are actually considered “overweight.”

Teen girls who diet (or, “watch their weight”) are much more likely to develop disordered patterns characterized by restrictive eating, which is linked to negative psychological consequences including depressive symptoms and low self-esteem.[6] In fact, dieting leads to a 5- to 18-fold increase in risk for developing eating disorders.[7] Furthermore, individuals who engage in more extreme patterns of restrictive eating are at higher risk of elevated mortality from physical complications and suicide.[8] According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness.[9]

In light of additional evidence that suggests dieting is likely to be ineffective at achieving sustained weight loss, the decision to offer a teen weight loss program is irresponsible.[10] Specifically, as you likely well know, a very small percentage of people who diet maintain it over the long term. Those that do not maintain weight loss are often left feeling shameful, feeling like they lack the self-control or will power to “stick to the diet.” You know this because you benefit tremendously from the yoyo dieters who continue to return to your program time and time again. Indeed, the U.S. weight loss market was estimated to be worth 62.8 billion in 2017 .[11] Richard Samber, a former finance director of your organization, acknowledged that the weight loss market is “successful because the 84% [who can’t keep the weight off] keep coming back. That’s where your business comes from”.[12]

As the co-founder of Smart Fit Girls, we are working exceptionally hard to empower girls to take up space, step into their power and use their voices to change the world in really important ways; ways that have not yet been elucidated. To be clear – these girls have NO time to waste “watching their weight.”

I, on behalf of the hundreds of girls our organization has worked with, as well as the thousands of girls and women who stand to be harmed by this teen program, compel you to take responsibility for the damage you will do by offering this program to teens, and urge you to reconsider.

 

Chrissy Chard, PhD

Co-Founder, Smart Fit Girls, Inc.

 

[1] Daee, A., Robinson, P., Lawson, M., Turpin, J., Gregory, B., Tobias, J. (2002). Psychologic and Physiologic Effects of Dieting in Adolescents. Southern Medical Journal, Vol.95 (9), 1032-1041.
[2] Viner, R. & Macfarlane, A. (2005) ABC of adolescence: Health Promotion. Boston Medical

Journal, 330, 527-529. doi: 10.1136/bmj.330.7490.527
[3] Dieting in adolescence. (2004). Paediatrics & Child Health, 9(7), 487-491.  
[4] Psychologic and Physiologic Effects of Dieting in Adolescents, [1039].
[5] Dieting in adolescence, 488.
[6] Haynos, A.F., Watts, A.W., Loth, K.A., Pearson, C.M., & Neumark-Stzainer, D. (2016). Factors Predicting an Escalation of Restrictive Eating during Adolescence. Journal of Adolescent Health, 59(4), 391-396. DOI: 10.1016/j.jadohealth.2016.03.011
[7] Patton, G.C., Selzer, R., Coffey, C., Carlin, J.B., & Wolfe, R. (1999). Onset of adolescent eating disorders: population based cohort study over 3 years. Boston Medical Journal, 318(7186), 765-768.   
[8] Factors Predicting an Escalation of Restrictive Eating during Adolescence, 392.
[9] Eating Disorder Statistics. National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders. Retrieved from <a href="http://www.anad.org/education-and-awareness/about-eating-disorders/eating-disorders-statistics/" rel="nofollow">http://www.anad.org/education-and-awareness/about-eating-disorders/eating-disorders-statistics/</a>
[10] Dieting in Adolescence, 488.
[11] Larosa, J. (2018, January, 2). Top 6 Trends for the Weight Loss Industry in 2018. Market Research. Retrieved from <a href="https://blog.marketresearch.com/top-6-trends-for-the-weight-loss-market-in-2018" rel="nofollow">https://blog.marketresearch.com/top-6-trends-for-the-weight-loss-market-in-2018</a>
[12] Peretti, J. (2013, August 7). Fat profits: how the food industry cashed in on obesity. The Guardian. Retrieved from <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2013/aug/07/fat-profits-food-industry-obesity" rel="nofollow">https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2013/aug/07/fat-profits-food-industry-obesity</a>

 



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