(Meredith) -- Weight Watchers is now offering free 6-week memberships to teenagers between 13 and 17. The company says the new program will help "the development of healthy habits at a critical life stage," but some are accusing Weight Watchers of taking advantage of young people.
Recent health trends have moved away from setting a weight loss goal -- instead, focusing primarily on a healthier lifestyle, and letting the weight loss come later. Rebecca Scritchfield wrote in the Washington Post that teens, especially, should be focused on health, not weight.
"The name is Weight Watchers, not Health Enhancers. The second the focus turns to weight, the potential for mind and body damage begins."
The National Eating Disorders Association said teenagers are at a very vulnerable stage of life and shouldn't be concerned about dieting. The association went on to say 35 percent of normal dieters can develop disordered eating. A study by the American Academy of Pediatrics agrees that dieting is a risk factor for developing eating disorders.
Weight Watchers responded to the criticism in a statement to CNBC. It said,
"Our decision to open our program to teens, with the consent of a parent or guardian, is driven by a family-based approach. This is not about encouraging dieting, but rather helping teens to form healthy habits at this critical life stage. We are engaging and look forward to dialogue with health care professionals as we roll out this program in a few months."