Anyone between the ages of 13 and 17 can sign up for the six-week program with their parent's permission.
Credit: Getty: Eugene Gologursky / Stringer

Weight Watchers has just announced that, this summer, they will allow any teenager between the ages of 13 and 17 to sign up for a free membership. According to a company release, Weight Watchers is hoping the giveaway will "help the development of healthy habits at a critical stage."

The offer is being extended for a six-week period and teens will be able to sign up for the program with their parents' or guardian's consent. Newsday reports that Weight Watchers representatives have declined to provide any more information about the promotion at this time. "We'll share more specific criteria and guidelines when we launch the program," the release said.

A big proponent of the company's decision to extend the offer came from investor Oprah Winfrey, who said that she's "inspired to be part of this purpose-driven mission as we deepen and expand our own connection to communities, making wellness accessible to everyone."

While the prospect of getting teens to talk more about nutrition and healthy lifestyle is encouraging, Cooking Light's team of nutritionists expressed concern that Weight Watchers' initiative could push young adults into a detrimental approach to eating.

New Year. New Food. Healthy eating starts here, with the Cooking Light Diet.

"Teenagers are extremely impressionable, so my initial reaction to the idea of someone as young as 13 signing up for a calorie-counting program is [to be] apprehensive," says Assistant Nutrition Editor Jamie Vespa MS, RD. "They're also going through one of the most rigorous developmental and hormonal periods of their life, and eating is more intuitive during this time than ever. A system like Weight Watchers is about monitoring calorie intake, which doesn't go hand in hand with intuitive eating."

Credit: JGI/Jamie Grill/Getty Images

Vespa agrees that starting a conversation about nutrition and bringing awareness to the value of healthy food is worthwhile, but she's wary of the possible unintended side effects when someone as young as 13 actively tries to lose weight. The habit of assigning good or bad value to a food item, which is the basis of Weight Watchers' point system, could inspire unhealthy tendencies, she says.

"Even at the age of 17, counting calories obsessively and intensively restricting your diet is potentially setting yourself up for tendencies that can lead to disordered eating, a distorted understanding of food itself, and an experience that could really negatively impact your future," says Cooking Light's Nutrition Director Brierley Horton MS, RD.

Horton believes it's best, should you truly be interested in enrolling your kids into the Weight Watchers program, to take this opportunity to learn more about helping children understand healthy tendencies and the importance of nutrition.

Despite a lack of full details on who among Weight Watchers' staff will facilitate this six-week program, or if it will be different than a traditional membership for adults, Horton hopes that calorie counting won't be the main takeaway. "It really could get them to see food as the enemy, which is the worst thing you could teach someone at that age."