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WW just released a weight loss app for kids. What could go wrong?

When news broke this week that WW (formerly Weight Watchers) was rolling out a new nutrition and weight loss app called Kurbo, Whitney Fisch — a social worker, school counselor and mom of three — felt compelled to share her outrage online. 

“You NEED to Shut. This. Down,” she wrote on Facebook. “All bodies, especially growing + developing bodies, deserve respect + the ability to grow into whatever shape they’re meant to grow to be.” She was, she said, writing “with the fury of 1,000 suns.”

Fisch is hardly the only parent who has slammed Kurbo by WW since its launch Tuesday. (WW actually acquired Kurbo in 2018, then spent a year retooling it and adding what Time described as a “Snapchat-inspired interface.”) WW calls Kurbo a “scientifically-proven behavior change program designed to help kids and teens age 8-17 reach a healthier weight,” derived from Stanford University’s Pediatric Weight Control Program.

12 PHOTOS12 things your mother's health says about youSee Gallery12 things your mother's health says about you

Sketchy skeleton

Genetics play a big part in health conditions, so looking at your mom’s health can give you a clue what’s to come. This is especially true of complications that affect women more than men, like osteoporosis, a weakening of the bones. According to the CDC, osteoporosis affects 25 percent of women over 65, but only six percent of men—and recent research has found genetic variants predisposing some people to the disease. “There is strong evidence for an increased risk of osteoporosis if your mother had it,” says Todd Sontag, DO, a family medicine specialist with Orlando Health Physician Associates. “Many times this has to do with an inherited body structure of having lower body weight—less than 58kg [128 pounds] in adults or a BMI of less than 22.” Another risk factor is simply having a parental history (mom or dad) of hip fracture, he says. To mitigate these affects, make sure you’re getting enough calcium and vitamin D, and are living a healthy lifestyle. Here are the signs you’re not as healthy as you think.

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Crepey skin

Wonder if you’re going to get wrinkles or skin damage? Take a look at your mom’s face. Research has shown that male and female skin ages differently due to different hormones. “Your mother’s ability to break down collagen and the age when it started breaking down—the age when she got wrinkles—are passed down to you, as well as the pattern of collagen breakdown: Did she get wrinkles around her eyes first, or deeper lines around her mouth?” says dermatologist Purvisha Patel, MD, creator of Visha Skin Care. “Looking at pictures of her as she ages helps you understand how to combat your aging process.” Daily sunscreen and an anti-aging serum with retinol, vitamin C, ferulic acid, and vitamin E work to fight these genetic effects, she says. In addition, your skin type, passed down from your mother and your father, can affect your chances of sun damage and skin cancer. Those with fairer skin are most at risk. This is what dermatologists wish you knew about preventing wrinkles.

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Mental health

If you’re aware of what psychologists wish you knew about depression, you might already know that depression is diagnosed twice as often in women as in men, possibly as a result of hormonal fluctuations and women’s response to trauma and stress. “Another important aspect in gender studies shows that women have a more chronic course of depression than do men,” says psychologist Deborah Serani, PsyD, award-winning author of Living With Depression. “This means that females experience depression more often and for a longer duration of time than males.” Plus, it’s genetically linked, with Harvard Medical School experts noting that certain genetic mutations associated with depression occur only in women. So if your mother had depression, you should be on the lookout for symptoms, and get treatment if needed. “This is why knowing your family medical history is so important to become proactive about your own personal health,” Dr. Serani says. Here are the signs you’re healthy from every type of doctor.

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Eye issues

Women are more likely to have the eye condition glaucoma, and are also more likely to be visually impaired or blind from it, says the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO). Thanks to menopause, women are also more likely to have dry eye syndrome, which frequently occurs with glaucoma. Plus, glaucoma runs in families—so if your mom (or dad) has it, be sure to let your eye doctor know, and get screened for it regularly. “You are at higher risk for developing glaucoma and [another eye condition] macular degeneration if your mother had it,” says Dr. Sontag. “Just like everything else, there are other lifestyle factors that contribute as well.” The AAO says to also avoid smoking to reduce your risk. Here’s how to improve your eyesight—without eating carrots!

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Migraines

There are multiple reasons you might have a migraine, and your mother is just one of them. According to the Mayo Clinic, women are three times more likely than men to have migraines, likely because of hormonal fluctuations. The National Headache Foundation notes that 70 to 80 percent of migraine sufferers have a relative who gets the debilitating attacks as well. “One of the main risk factors for migraines is family history of migraines,” Dr. Sontag says. “So yes, if your mother has migraines, you are more likely to develop them as well.” Emerging research is identifying how and why genetics play a role, with one large international study suggesting it may have to do with how the blood vessels function in the brain. But until we know more, if your mother suffers from migraines, you can try to reduce your risk by limiting other risk factors, like getting regular exercise and sleep, managing stress, and avoiding caffeine and any individual food triggers.

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Alzheimer’s disease

Nearly two-thirds of those with Alzheimer’s are women, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. The exact reasons why are yet unknown, but seem to go beyond the simple fact that women live longer than men. Researchers have also found genetic links for Alzheimer’s. “There are genetic alleles that have been identified that increase risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease,” Dr. Sontag says. “A maternal history does increase the risk.” The National Institute on Aging reports that if your mother or father has a genetic mutation for early-onset Alzheimer’s (which appears from your thirties to mid-sixties), there’s a 50/50 chance you will inherit it—and if you do, there is a strong possibility of developing the disease. If your mother had Alzheimer’s or other dementia, you can reduce your risk by exercising, eating a heart-healthy diet, maintaining social ties, and staying mentally active. These are the early signs of Alzheimer’s disease every adult should know.

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Weight, body shape and fitness level

As with many other aspects of health, the condition of your body is partly genetic, partly environmental. So if your mother has a certain body type or weight, you may be more likely to have the same one—but that could be the result of learned behaviors, too. “While there is some solid research to support a maternal’s body shape and weight and its influence on her children, this is definitely not the only contributing factor,” Dr. Sontag says. “Many times, the lifestyle of the mother is what is learned and passed down to her kids, which includes the way she eats and exercises.” So if you grow up eating the same way as you mother, it’s not surprising if you develop a similar body. Likewise, the fitness level you can achieve is part hereditary, part lifestyle. “Genetics do play a strong role in our muscle make-up,” Dr. Sontag says. “No matter how much certain people train, they will never be as fast as Usain Bolt or Michael Phelps.” Still, if your mom is overweight, you can help avoid the same fate by eating healthy and exercising, with the goal of being the healthiest you can for your individual body.

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Heart disease and diabetes

Women may believe they don’t have to worry about heart disease, but just like men they need to understand their genetic heart disease factors. Given genetic similarities in weight and body shape, you and your mother might also have a similar risk of heart disease, the number one killer of women, as well as type-2 diabetes. A recent study presented at the American Society of Human Genetics found that maternally inherited gene variants of how women store fat can affect their risk of type-2 diabetes. “There is strong evidence that if your mother has heart disease, type-2 diabetes, or strokes, that you are at a higher risk to develop them,” Dr. Sontag says. “The younger the age that the mother developed it tends to correlate with a higher risk in the children.” But again, there are lifestyle factors to consider. “If your mother had a heart attack at 50, but weighed 300 pounds, never exercised, and smoked, the risk may be completely related to her lifestyle,” he says. “You can’t have soda every day and ice cream every night and then use your family history as an excuse when you develop diabetes.” Still, if your mother (or father) had early heart disease, Dr. Sontag recommends a checkup with a cardiologist. These are the physical and emotional ways heart disease is different for women.

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Pregnancy and fertility

If you’re looking to see what your pregnancy experience will be like, ask your mother about carrying you. “Gestational diabetes is more common in women who are risk for adult onset diabetes, which does run in families, so if you have a strong family history of diabetes, you are at increased risk for gestational diabetes,” says Pamela Berens, MD, an OBGYN with McGovern Medical School at UTHealth and Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital. In addition, “preeclampsia is more common in women who have had high blood pressure, and high blood pressure may be inherited.” A Norwegian study showed severe morning sickness, or hyperemesis gravidarum, may be inherited as well. As for issues getting pregnant, most causes of infertility and miscarriage are not genetic—but some may be. “There appears to be an increased risk of endometriosis in first-degree relatives of women with endometriosis,” Dr. Berens says. “Rarely, some women with recurrent miscarriages can have an inherited chromosome issue that makes miscarriage more common, and genetic testing can be done.” For some other infertility conditions, such as PCOS, it’s not clear yet whether genetics are at play.

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Postpartum depression

You should also ask your mom if she suffered from postpartum depression after pregnancy. Like other aspects of mental health, it may be passed from mother to daughter. “Studiesshow that postpartum depression is genetically linked,” Dr. Serani says. “Your risk for PPD increases if your mother, or another family member—sister, aunt—has experienced it.” One small study from Johns Hopkins found specific chemical alterations in two genes that, when they occur during pregnancy, can predict whether a woman will develop postpartum depression with 85 percent accuracy. The researchers hope this will eventually lead to a blood test that can give pregnant women a better indication of their risk—but for now, knowing your family history is important. “Ask your mother about her postpartum experiences,” Dr. Serani says. “This can informally clue you in to whether or not depression is a risk factor for you.” Here are seven dangerous postpartum depression myths.

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Breast and ovarian cancers

Awareness on the genetic link of breast and ovarian cancers may be due in part to Angelina Jolie, whose mother died from breast cancer. After discovering she carried the BRCA1 gene, the actress underwent a preventive mastectomy, reducing her breast cancer risk from 87 percent to under 5. “The gene mutations that are most commonly associated with hereditary breast and ovarian cancer are the BRCA1 and 2 gene mutations,” Dr. Berens says. “If you have a suspicious family history—for example, if you have multiple family members with breast or ovarian cancer, if the breast cancer happened at an early age, or if the same family member had both cancers—it is more suspicious that you could have a genetic tendency.” Talk to your doctor about your individual risk if you mom or other female relatives had one of these cancers, and consider seeing a genetic counselor for genetic testing.

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Menopause

Studies have shown that the age at which your mother went through menopause will be partly responsible for when you do. In addition, if your mother went through menopause early, you should let your doctor know. “Premature ovarian insufficiency, before 40, can be caused by a number of conditions, and some of these conditions can be inherited—for instance women who are fragile X carriers,” Dr. Berens says. Fragile X is a gene mutation linked to the X chromosome, and it can trigger anxiety, hyperactivity, and intellectual disability. As for menopause symptoms such as hot flashes and night sweats, Dr. Berens says scientists are trying to clarify if there’s a genetic link. The first study of its kind in humans, from UCLA, might have found a related gene variant, but more research is needed. Next, check out what your sweat says about your health.

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But many parents and body positivity advocates are calling it flat-out dangerous. 

“This is a TERRIBLE idea,” Kristy, a mother of an 11-year-old girl who is recovering from anorexia and over-exercising, wrote in an email to HuffPost. (She asked that only her first name be used to protect her daughter’s privacy.)

Although Kristy has no direct experience with Kurbo, she said she has seen how technology marketed to promote “healthy” behaviors can fuel unhealthy ones in children struggling with body image issues. Her daughter used a fitness tracker to obsessively log how many calories she burned in a day. “I was shocked at how she used it,” Kristy said.

The Kurbo app uses what WW calls the traffic light system: Kids are urged to eat plenty of “green light” foods (like fruits and vegetables), to be “mindful” of their portions of “yellow light” foods (like lean protein, whole grains and dairy), and to reduce consumption of “red light” foods (like sugary drinks and “treats”).

The app is free, but WW also offers subscription-based plans for one-on-one sessions with coaches said to be experts in nutrition, exercise, and mental health. (The company does not have a set threshold for credentialing, though coaches do go through a minimum of six to eight hours of initial training, as well as three and a half hours of continuing education, a spokesperson for WW told HuffPost.) 

And in line with WW’s recent rebranding and public pivot toward promoting “wellness” rather than focusing on weight loss, the app also encourages kids to track behaviors like daily physical activity and deep breathing. 

“This isn’t a weight loss app,” Gary Foster, chief scientific officer at WW, told HuffPost. “This is an app that teaches in a game-ified, fun, engaging way what are the basics of a healthy eating pattern.” 

“I think there could be some misperception that somehow we’re saying, ‘All kids should lose weight, you’re not OK as you are,’” he added. “What we’re saying to kids who are trying to achieve a healthier weight — kids and families — is that this is a reasonable, sensible way to do it.” Achieving a “healthier weight” is very different for children and adults, he said, because children are constantly growing.

But eating disorder treatment professionals said there might be a disconnect between what WW seems to be trying to do and what the end result may be. 

“While the intention of the app is to promote health and wellness, there is the risk that it could do more harm than good,” said Kathryn Argento, a registered dietician with The Renfrew Center, a national network of eating disorder treatment centers for women and girls. “Targeting kids as young as 8 years old to focus on … their bodies can lead to an intense preoccupation with food, size, shape and weight.” There’s evidence that body image anxiety can begin in children as young as age 3. 

At the same time, public health experts have identified childhood obesity as a major concern. According to current national estimates, roughly one in five children in the United States are obese, which can increase their risk for immediate health complications, like Type 2 diabetes, as well as longer term problems, like cardiovascular disease.

Yet public health organizations and pediatricians emphasize that this is a complex health issue, and there are real questions about how effective weight loss plans for children even are.

“The evidence suggests that these types of tools may be helpful adjuncts to weight management, but there are few studies in pediatrics to confirm that they lead to a ‘meaningful change in their weight trajectories,’” Dr. Ihuoma Eneli, director of the Center for Healthy Weight and Nutrition at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, told HuffPost. She said it is also unclear how well kids adhere to these types of programs, pointing to a small pilot study of the app that showed fairly low compliance. 

For all of Kurbo by WW’s marketing around its “holistic” approach to health, many parents and advocates worry the only message kids will hear is that there is something about them that is wrong and that needs to change. The “success stories” on Kurbo’s landing page highlight how many pounds children lost, not, say, how many minutes a day they now meditate. WW’s decades-long legacy as a weight loss company is hard to shake. 

“There’s no way that these kids don’t realize that the app is supposed to help them lose weight,” Ginny Jones, who founded a website dedicated to fighting eating disorders in children, told HuffPost. “No matter how hard it tries to market itself as a wellness company, WW is about weight loss. Kids are way smarter than we think they are, and every ‘big kid’ who [has been] put on a weight loss program knew exactly what their parents were trying to do.”

This article originally appeared on HuffPost.

11 PHOTOS11 things your itchy skin can reveal about your healthSee Gallery11 things your itchy skin can reveal about your health

Kidney disease

An intense itch all over the body often occurs in people with late stage kidney disease or who suffer from chronic renal failure. In fact, one study showed that 42 percent of dialysis patients suffered from moderate to extreme renal itch. “Some people describe it as a nuisance,” says Anthony M. Rossi, MD, assistant attending at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and New York Presbyterian Hospital.  “[The itch] is so intense that people wake up in the middle of the night scratching.” Science has yet to uncover why kidney disease causes itchiness, but doctors suspect it has to do with the build up of toxins in your body when your kidneys are unable to remove the waste from your bloodstream. Aside from treating the disease, a doctor may prescribe medications like gabapentin, an anti-seizure medicine that’s been FDA-approved for off-label use to quell renal itch. Here are 9 more little body changes that could signal much bigger health problems.

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Liver disease

Itching all over could also be a silent sign of liver disease. Where incessant itchiness shows up late-stage in kidney disease, it can be an early symptom of liver disease. “If your liver is not functioning properly to detoxify the body, byproducts like bile acids back up,” says Dr. Kathleen Cook Suozzi, MD, assistant professor in the Department of Dermatology at Yale School of Medicine. “The primary goal is to treat the underlying liver disease and prescribe medications that can eliminate the bile acids.” Doctors will typically prescribe medications that can inhibit your body’s uptake of bile acids or help reduce the amount of bile acid returning to the liver. Don’t miss these  9 signs your liver is in big trouble.

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Spinal disease

A chronically itchy upper middle of the back (without a rash) can be a hallmark of neuropathic itch, a symptom of nerve malfunction. Before providing treatment, doctors will first rule out spinal cord disease as a cause. Research has shown that spinal disease, whether due to age or injury, can apply pressure on the nerve and pinch it, which results in an itchy sensation on the skin. Neuropathic itches can occur on one side of the body or both, but it’s a big red flag if scratching brings no relief. “People with eczema get a good sensation from scratching,” says Dr. Rossi. “But [nerve itch] doesn’t improve with scratching. The itch intensifies most of the time.” Some people say it feels like insects are crawling on them. Once spinal cord disease or other health conditions have been ruled out, neuropathic itches can be treated with capsaicin cream, which is derived from hot peppers, to burn out the nerves that are firing irregularly on the skin. Make sure you know what muscle spasms can reveal about your health. 

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Celiac disease

Extremely itchy bumps or blisters on knees, elbows, buttocks, and/or hairline are signs of dermatitis herpetiformis (DH), a skin manifestation of celiac disease. “When a person with celiac disease consumes gluten, the mucosal immune system in the intestine responds by producing a type of antibody called immunoglobulin A (IgA),” John Zone, MD, Celiac Disease Foundation medical advisory board member told celiac.org. These IgA antibodies travel to and bind with the skin cells to trigger an itchy response. The prescription Dapsone can provide short-term itch relief for the skin, but the intestinal damage is serious and patients have to adopt a strict gluten-free diet for life. If they continue to eat gluten, celiac patients can develop malnutrition, anemia, bone loss, ulcerative colitis, and even cancer. Here are 11 celiac signs you need to pay attention to.

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Lymphoma

“The other thing that you want to rule out are blood disorders,” says Dr. Suozzi. “Anywhere from five to 30 percent of lymphomas such as Hodgkin’s and non-Hodgkin’s can present with itch.” Itchiness with or without a rash can be the first symptom of Hodgkin’s disease—likely caused by cytokines, cell signal molecules that trigger inflammation in response to infection. If your doctor suspects lymphoma, she may order a chest X-ray to eliminate the possibility. If you’re diagnosed with the disease, the itching will cease soon after starting chemotherapy or radiation therapy. 

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Thyroid disease

“Thyroid disease, whether it’s overactive or underactive can cause weird sensations in the skin,” says Cameron Rokhsar, MD, associate clinical professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital and dermatologist and cosmetic surgeon at New York Cosmetic, Skin & Laser Surgery Center. “No one knows the association but it may be that the changes in the sweat glands can cause skin dryness.” Itchy, dry skin is more common in people who have hypothyroid, because skin tissue contains thyroid hormone receptors that are seeing diminished cellular activity in the absence of thyroid hormone.

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Allergies

Allergies are one of the most common chronic health conditions in the world. In fact, many skin allergies are classified under the umbrella term contact dermatitis, the itchy rash on your skin that you get when you come into contact with an allergen. Poison ivy, nickel, or compounds found in personal care items like baby wipes and makeup are just a few of the allergens that can cause contact dermatitis. Your dermatologist may stick patches on your skin with different compounds that are correlated to the most common allergens to pinpoint the root cause of your allergies. “It’s like a treasure hunt when we’re trying to look into all the products that people use,” says Dr. Suozzi. A strong topical steroid is prescribed for relief. Don’t miss these 8 signs your skin products are secretly damaging your face.

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Menopause 

If you’ve finally hit menopause, you may have noticed a sudden change in your appearance—including dry skin. The loss of estrogen, an essential building block for collagen production, leads to thinner, itchier skin due to a diminished supply of natural oils that keep your skin’s moisture intact. Maintain your fountain of youth with Aloe Vera gel or calamine lotion, which help hold water in your skin’s outermost layer to alleviate drying and itching.

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Breast cancer

Paget’s disease of the nipple is an incredibly rare form of breast cancer where cancer cells collect in or around the nipple. According to the National Cancer Institute, Paget’s disease of the nipple accounts for less than 5 percent of all breast cancer cases in the United States. The first sign is scaly, red, itchy patches around the nipple and areola. “Sometimes it’s misdiagnosed as eczema of the nipple,” says Dr. Suozzi. “But when it’s breast cancer-associated it’s unilateral.” Itchy skin isn’t the only sign of disease; here are the 10 subtle signs of disease that your feet can show. 

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You’re pregnant 

The American Pregnancy Association states that 1 in 150 women will develop pruritic urticarial papules and plaques (PUPP), an outbreak of itchy red rashes commonly seen on the abdomen, though they can also appear on your legs and arms. Most women can’t do much about the itch because the rash typically doesn’t develop until late into the third trimester when most medications are off limits. “It’s not proven but some people say [PUPP] can happen with multiple gestations like twins,” says Dr. Rossi. “And some people think it’s because the skin gets stretched out.” Fortunately, it’s harmless and goes away after pregnancy.

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Dermatographia

If after lightly scratching your skin, your fingernails leave thin, raised red welts on your skin that take 15 to 30 minutes to disappear, you may suspect dermatographia. Although the cause of this condition is unclear, the Mayo Clinic says it could be triggered by stress, infections, allergens, or medications like penicillin. “It’s an extreme skin condition, where your skin is sensitive to touch and releases too much histamine,” says Dr. Rokhsar. Areas of touch and clothing are the most susceptible to dermatographic flare-ups. It’s easy to diagnose but often goes undiagnosed because it’s not severe or bothersome enough for people to make an appointment with their dermatologist. If the itch becomes severe, your doctor can prescribe an antihistamine to relieve the inflammation. If this becomes a regular occurrence, ask your doctor if you might have histamine intolerance or even mast cell activation syndrome—both are conditions where the body fails to process histamine properly.

And should your itch not be due to one of these conditions, check out the 7 bug bites you should never ignore.

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