Weight Watchers To Offer Free Memberships For Teens And People Are NOT Here For It

    People think the move could encourage disordered eating and are using #WakeUpWeightWatchers to show their concern and outrage.

    Last week, Weight Watchers announced that, starting this summer, it will begin offering free memberships to teenagers ages 13 to 17.

    We inspire healthy habits for real life. For people, families, communities, the world - for everyone. This is our p… https://t.co/yKKYEPtxur

    At a global employee event last week, the company said it would be implementing plans to make ~wellness~ available to all. The plan includes two main initiatives — removing artificial ingredients from Weight Watchers products and making free memberships available to teenagers.

    In a press release, the company said that the reasoning behind these free memberships is so that teens can learn to develop "healthy habits at a critical life stage."

    The initiative prompted immediate outrage, with critics saying the memberships might encourage restrictive eating behavior in children at a vulnerable age and make teens feel like they need to diet to achieve a certain body size.

    In response to the announcement, people tweeted their concerns using the hashtag #WakeUpWeightWatchers, which was started by BALANCE ED Treatment, a New York City–based eating disorder treatment center.

    Want to make your voice heard? Join us & many other #eatingdisorder, #HAES & #bodypositive professionals and advoca… https://t.co/l4KoAmux6L

    People used the hashtag to explain why introducing dieting behavior at a young age can be dangerous.

    The true cost of the weight watchers proposed program for teens is a lifetime battle with disordered eating and poo… https://t.co/Kj0qHoQyyV

    To anyone wondering why we’re tweeting about #WakeUpWeightWatchers : Scientific research has shown that putting kid… https://t.co/oehIMo3y7b

    Weight Watchers' new plan to offer teens free memberships is dangerous. According to the Mayo Clinic, one of the ma… https://t.co/PQ5xQUFiT2

    They also used it to come forward about their own experiences with Weight Watchers at a young age.

    #WeightWatchers was my first attempt at dieting at 10 years old. It made me feel that I had to lose weight & restri… https://t.co/0aQDfk7koZ

    Weekly weigh-ins at WW meetings beginning at age 12 ➡️turned into daily weigh-ins at my house ➡️ turned into obsess… https://t.co/xsCbILvuv7

    As a #recovered professional, my first diet was on @WeightWatchers at 17 years olds! I was constantly told, even th… https://t.co/l4C9hOfLCi

    Some people used the hashtag to address teens directly.

    To teens everywhere (and my teenage self who would’ve begged her Mom to signup for this program): you are worthy, s… https://t.co/OQ9YUUjpvA

    Fat teens, I see you and I feel you. I'm sorry for the distress our fat phobic culture causes. I'm sorry that you f… https://t.co/zOGJwXAL7q

    Teens, the problem is not your body or the way you eat. The problem is society & the way it views bigger bodies. Th… https://t.co/YcerYd8RSt

    And the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) even weighed in on the conversation.

    The link between dieting & #eatingdisorders is clear and we are concerned about the new @WeightWatchers promotion f… https://t.co/whfbSOOjTS

    According to Dr. Eve Freidl at the Columbia University Clinic for Anxiety and Related Disorders in NYC, dieting in general is definitely a risk behavior for developing an eating disorder.

    "The reality is there are many, many people that diet who don't develop an eating disorder," Freidl says. "However, it certainly is a risk behavior for developing an eating disorder, and both anorexia and bulimia do tend to develop during the window of someone's teenage years."

    The concern here is that Weight Watchers is going to be introduced at a point during kids' lives where they may be vulnerable to dieting when they shouldn't be, she explains. Teenage years are a critical period for growth, and serious weight loss could affect important things like bone development and hormone levels, which will impact overall maturation, she adds.

    "Teenagers are supposed to be growing and getting bigger, and their brains just aren't fully developed yet — the part of the brain that is more involved in the emotional world is developing faster than the part of the brain that is really good at long-term planning and decision making," she says. "So while Weight Watchers is suggesting that this might be a good time to implement healthy behavioral strategies, I think saying that without data and research, as to the most responsible way to do it, can be dangerous."

    Weight Watchers has since issued this response via Twitter.

    In the response, Weight Watchers basically says, after hearing the criticism against its new initiatives, it understands how vulnerable people are during their teenage years and that their messaging toward teens needs to be handled responsibly.

    The company then said its main focus is giving teens the tools to live healthier lives and that the program being provided will not be a "diet," but instead a curriculum that guides healthy habits for life. What that actually means for the company's new initiatives and teen-focused programs is still TBD.

    You can read the whole thing on Twitter.

    BuzzFeed News has reached out to Weight Watchers for comment.

    If you struggle with an eating disorder or just need to talk to someone, you can call NEDA, the National Eating Disorders Association, at 1-800-931-2237 and or texting NEDA to 74174, the Crisis Text Line. And if you're located in the UK, you can call UK ABC, the Anorexia and Bulimia Care charity, at 03000 11 12 13.