Weight Watchers decision to launch Kurbo, a health coaching application aimed at younger people, has been described as alarming by the UK medical director for Liva Healthcare.
Kurbo has been designed to “help kids and teens reach a healthier weight and build healthy habits.”
It works by using a traffic light system for certain food groups which was developed a Stanford University.
Dr Roger Henderson of Liva Healthcare, the digital health platform used by the NHS as part of the Diabetes Prevention Programme, feels that technology should be used to assist rather than replace the role of healthcare professionals.
He said: “It is undeniable that unhealthy and sedentary lifestyles are massive factors in the state of millennial health in the UK. The consequence, excess weight, is then linked to multiple chronic illnesses such as obesity, diabetes and heart disease.
“These algorithm driven apps could be very damaging to young children – making them obsessed with the types and quantity of food they put in their body. This could in turn trigger eating disorders. Healthy eating is not just about foods to avoid and quantities, it’s about having a personalised plan based on your needs.”
Dr Henderson added that children should be guided towards adopting a healthy lifestyle, and pointed to an example of a project he oversees.
“As digital natives, technology is key to successful lifestyle intervention. However, it’s important that is is done responsibly, and that digital health doesn’t get too digital. In that vulnerable age, children need to be guided by a trusted and knowledgeable source.
“Healthcare professionals should never be replaced by apps or algorithms, instead relationships should be enhanced and facilitated through technology. This is the recipe for long-term lifestyle change for individuals at risk of lifestyle diseases.
“This is exactly what initiatives such as The Healthier You: NHS Diabetes Prevention Programme are trying to achieve – careful balance between digital tools and face-to-face sessions to enable long-term behaviour change in those at risk of Type 2 diabetes and obesity. For example, Liva Healthcare offers a digital service to complement LWTC’s (Living Well Taking Control) face-to-face intervention programme in delivering diabetes and obesity prevention for the next five years.”