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.”
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.