Weight Watchers is offering free membership to teenagers between 13 and 17 during six weeks of the summer of 2018.
Teens who register during that period will retain free access to Weight Watchers International through age 17, the company said in an emailed statement. A parent or guardian must provide consent for membership.
“Our goal is to help those who need healthy habits to develop them at this critical life-stage,” the statement continued. “We think there’s a real opportunity to make an impact on a problem that is not currently being addressed effectively.”
A Weight Watchers representative declined to answer further questions, instead highlighting a sentence in the statement that said, “We’ll share more specific criteria and guidelines when we launch the program.”
Several Long Island professionals who work with adolescents to establish healthy eating habits cautioned parents to check with their children’s pediatricians before beginning their teens on any weight control program and to check with Weight Watchers to determine whether the program is specifically designed for children who may still be in their growth years.
“We are strong supporters of Weight Watchers for adults,” said pediatrician Ronald Feinstein, director of the POWER Kids Weight Management Program at Cohen Children’s Medical Center in New Hyde Park. But adolescents have different nutritional requirements and some may be better off focusing on weight maintenance rather than reduction, he said. “We do not like to restrict calories to adolescents who are continuing to grow,” he said.
Stephanie Di Figlia-Peck, a registered dietitian and nutritionist in Cohen’s division of adolescent medicine, also advised parents to ask whether teens would be attending age-restricted meetings or would be mixed into the program’s weekly meetings along with adults. “Weight Watchers is a tremendous program. When people have a unity with other people, they feel like they can do it,” Di Figlia-Peck said. But Weight Watchers asks followers to budget points, with different foods and drinks — including alcohol — being assigned different point quantities. “I wouldn’t want that conversation to happen in front of kids,” she said.