Last week, Weight Watchers announced that, starting this summer, it will begin offering free memberships to teenagers ages 13 to 17.
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.
People used the hashtag to explain why introducing dieting behavior at a young age can be dangerous.
They also used it to come forward about their own experiences with Weight Watchers at a young age.
Some people used the hashtag to address teens directly.
And the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) even weighed in on the conversation.
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.
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.