Weight Watchers restricts kids' access to program

Doctor's note now a requirement for children ages 10-16

April 06, 2003|By Elizabeth Lee | Elizabeth Lee,Cox News Service

At a time when the number of overweight children is soaring, Weight Watchers is tightening their access to its program.

The weight management program recently began requiring a doctor's note and a weight goal before enrolling children aged 10 to 16. The diet's food provisions may not be appropriate for children and might even cause them to rebel and gain more weight, says Weight Watchers chief scientist Karen Miller-Kovach. The 40-year-old program previously required medical permission only for children younger than 10.

"While we have assumed forever that what works for adults is what's best for kids, now we have evidence that maybe that's not the case," Kovach says. "We're learning a tremendous amount about what doesn't work. What we're still working hard to find is what does work."

One of the few areas that researchers can point to as successful in helping kids manage weight is restricting TV viewing and having parents who eat right and are physically active. Serving as a positive role model has been shown to influence children's food choices.

Fifteen percent of American children ages 6 to 19 are considered too heavy, as are 10.4 percent of kids ages 2 to 5. A rise in related health problems, such as Type 2 diabetes, have caused some health and nutrition organizations to devote more research to what makes kids gain weight and how to reverse the trend.

Asking for medical permission will ensure that parents and a primary care provider think about whether Weight Watchers' combination of education, physical activity and food choice guidelines are a good match for the child, Kovach says.

Fewer than 5 percent of Weight Watchers' clients are children.

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