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story.lead_photo.caption Julia Henry

It's no secret that parents want what is best for their children. They want their children to be healthy and learn how to care for themselves.

With so much information available from the internet, health care providers, books, television shows and elsewhere, it can be difficult to know what information to trust. One worry many parents have is how to manage their child's weight, especially as the number of children in larger bodies appears to be increasing. A new tool they may be interested to know more about is the Kurbo app from Weight Watchers (now known as WW), which was just recently released.

Kurbo is targeted at children ages 8-17 years old. Weight Watchers said its intention behind the app is to help teach children healthy eating and exercise habits. Children enter their weights and weight goals, and also log the foods they eat and the exercise they do.

The app uses the "traffic light" system to teach about foods. This method was developed at Stanford University more than 30 years ago, and essentially teaches "green" foods should be eaten as often as possible, "yellow" foods should be eaten cautiously and "red" foods should be limited.

Though the app is free, parents and children are encouraged to sign up for paid consults with coaches.

As a dietitian, it concerns me when weight loss programs are marketed toward children.

First, children's bodies are still growing and developing. Intentionally providing fewer calories in an attempt to lose weight can lead to undernourishment and can hinder development. In girls, in particular, it can cause missed or absent periods. If this is prolonged, it can lead to osteoporosis later in life.

Second, teaching children that certain foods are OK to eat and certain foods should be limited or avoided sets them up to believe there are "good" or "bad" foods, and that by extension, the child is "good" or "bad" for eating them. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), dieting behaviors are not only "the most important predictor of developing an eating disorder," but these behaviors also increase the chances a child will actually weigh more in the long run.

I don't mention this to discourage weight gain, but to note the behavior is not actually having the desired outcome.

What can parents do to encourage positive body image and promote overall well-being in their children?

The AAP recommends having meals together as a family as often as possible. This allows parents to offer a variety of foods and model healthy eating for their children. It also provides opportunities for parents to notice if their child has concerns about foods or their bodies.

It is also important to avoid negative talk about weight, bodies or food around children. Instead, focus on how delicious a food is, how foods and physical activity make you feel, and what bodies are capable of (such as your child's sport or their skills in a particular area of study).

These are just a few ways you can encourage well-being in your children without focusing on weight.

Julia Henry RD LD is a weight-inclusive registered dietitian at Capital Region Medical Center. She specializes in gastrointestinal issues and helping people heal their relationships with food and their bodies through a Health at Every Size approach.

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