Our New Weight-Loss App For Kids Is Totally Worth The Risk

A letter to reassure our investors.

Audrey Burges
Sep 8, 2019 · 4 min read
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Photo by i yunmai on Unsplash

Dearest Investors:

Like the rest of you, we have been concerned by recent press coverage about the risks that weight-loss apps pose to children. Given claims that children could face a lifetime of disordered eating after using these products, as well as calls to boycott companies that market them, we thought you might be a bit spooked about our impending roll-out. We wanted to reach out to reassure you with one important fact.

We are going to make So. Much. Money.

Like other recent entries to the market, our app is designed to work with children as young as eight years of age, bringing us closer to our ultimate goal: cradle-to-grave weight loss consumers. The grade-school demographic is a strategic entry point. By third grade, kids have reached the crucial developmental stage of “not a baby, not yet an underage woman.” At the same time that kids transition from “learning to read” to “reading to learn,” our app will help them evolve from learning to weigh themselves to weighing themselves to learn that their body fails to conform to societal expectations.

To really hook these small, walking streams of revenue, we needed to create a product that was easy to use, with an interface that was “simple and science-based.” So we decided to classify all food into three simple categories (or cubbies! Because kids!) Our original categories were “Food You’re Not Bad for Eating,” “Food You’re Not Entirely Bad for Eating,” and “Food That is Bad, and You Are Bad for Eating It.” Initial feedback was mixed, so we kept working.

We trialed a few child-appropriate themes to help kids understand that any food they consume should be subjected to super-fun scrutiny. Our first attempt, a cartoon theme, was a total bust: no kids wanted to eat foods from the “Olive Oyl” category, and we discovered they didn’t even know who Olive Oyl was. Our second, superhero-themed attempt turned out to be a licensing nightmare, even though the Spider-Man / Thor / Fat Thor categories resonated with our audience.

Then it hit us: Kids love traffic lights. It’s a scientific fact! And colors don’t require licensing or brand recognition. With a color-based classification system, kids can log their foods as easily as they can ask why a cookie is a sometimes food. And ease-of-use means ease-of-paying-us-for-use.

Green means go. That kid can go ahead and take as many fistfuls of broccoli or kale as they like. They can consume as much as they need to fill the hole that opened when their pediatrician lectured them about BMI, or when their friend said they’d be so pretty if they lost a few pounds, or when their mom “accidentally” bought clothes that were a little too small but wouldn’t return them because it’s “important to have goals.”

Yellow means slow down. Before these kids eat that low-fat cheese, that skinny bread slice, or that low-calorie imitation of the food they’d actually like to eat, yellow cues them to ask questions. Good questions would include, “Do I really want to eat this?” or “Don’t I need an outside opinion before I put this in my mouth?” Kids can eat yellow foods in moderation. When they log them, the app judges them a little. But only because it cares so much about their health and their parents’ potential purchase of additional health coaching.

Red means stop, but not in an unsupportive way! Remember, the app doesn’t treat food as good or bad. Anymore. When the product was in beta, the app emitted an auditory cue if a user recorded a “red” food. Depending on the severity of “red”-ness, the user heard a klaxon alarm, the beep-beep-beep of a reversing dump truck, or a grandmother’s reminder that food spends “but a moment on the lips, and a lifetime on the hips.” In the end, we decided that red itself, the color of embarrassment, spoke loudly enough.

Yes, our app is ambitious. Yes, we’re courting public scorn. But we’re teaching kids to be body-positive: specifically, to be positive, at the earliest possible age, that their bodies are inadequate.

We believe that if you give a kid a fish, you’ll only feed them for a day. If you teach a kid to break that fish into calories, fat, and macros, and they’ll never eat fish sticks again. They’ll ask their parents to buy our new “Fishn’ for Fitness!” microwave meals instead. Cha-ching!

Slenderly yours,

A Leading Weight Loss Conglomerate

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Audrey Burges

Written by

Audrey’s work can be read in McSweeney’s, Human Parts, The Belladonna, Slackjaw, Points in Case, and other places. Twitter: @audrey_burges; audreyburges.com.

Slackjaw

Slackjaw

Medium humor. Large laughs.

Audrey Burges

Written by

Audrey’s work can be read in McSweeney’s, Human Parts, The Belladonna, Slackjaw, Points in Case, and other places. Twitter: @audrey_burges; audreyburges.com.

Slackjaw

Slackjaw

Medium humor. Large laughs.

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