UK Town Starts Texting Residents To Remind Them They're Obese

from the put-down-that-doughnut-Dave dept

The Stoke-on-Trent City Council in the UK has decided that it’s going to take aim at the obesity epidemic in the region — by texting local obese residents to remind them that they’re obese. The project includes daily texts reminding the residents of their biological shortcomings, as well as a weekly questionnaire and a follow-up questionnaire examining those shortcomings in more detail. According to ComputerWorld UK, the logic appears to be that the 10,000 pounds spent on the system might offset some of the 50 million pounds a year incurred from obesity-related deaths and health problems.

To receive the digital life advice you must be 18, have a body mass index (BMI) of 25 or over, and you (fortunately) have to opt-in to be scolded by the government about your spare tire. The concept sounds a little bit like what Libertarian nightmares must be like, with a government robot sending you messages reminding you to put down that doughnut and go play outside:

Examples of the texts sent include: aim to eat a variety of fruit and vegetables each day; aim to eat regular meals and keep a check on snacks and drinks; and ‘maybe walk to the shops or use the stairs more often’;. The texts may also ask questions, such as ‘;are you pleased with the amount of exercise you’ve done in the last seven days, text yes or no’;. If the respondents text yes, they get a reply like ‘that’s great, keep going’;, or if the answer is negative, they get a text encouraging them to do more exercise.

It’s not really clear that a text message is going to be the miracle missing link that cures someone’s life-long motivational problems, and as governments get more comfortable with location data and text messages, the results aren’t always good, such as the use of text messages in the Ukraine recently to warn protesters that they’re being monitored and should probably go home. As with the UK’s porn filters, you also have to wonder if there’s a slippery slope involved in these kinds of good intentions, and it’s probably not that far of a jump (at least under the Cameron government) toward systems that catalog and ridicule you for all your non-government sanctioned personal failings.

Though hey, if all it took for you to finally stop shoveling Cheeze-Its into your gullet and go outside was a text message, why ask why?

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Comments on “UK Town Starts Texting Residents To Remind Them They're Obese”

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PaulT (profile) says:


Unless I’m mistaken, that’s a US brand not usually available in the UK. The nearest similar products are probably Ritz or Mini Cheddars. Silly bit of trivia, I know, but it really stood out on an article about a town in the same county where I grew up!

As for the article, it seems to be suggesting that it’s an opt-in, so if it does get any results then I don’t see the problem. Plenty of people who are trying to lose weight already pay for apps and things to keep them motivated, so why shouldn’t the council supply such things in return for a saving on medical costs later on?

Anonymous Coward says:

If this were a service offered by a scrappy startup – and similar things have existed – you’d be praising it for it’s inventiveness.

As long as it’s opt-in – *truely* opt in, no special notes from town hall asking why you, that fat guy over there, hasn’t opted in – I see no inherent problem with a government offering the service (beyond the usual broad issues about whether the government should be in business at all, and competition with potential private suppliers of the same business).

John85851 (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I agree. Like you said, if this service was from “”, it would be hailed as a great social experiment.

And like other people are saying, as long as people opt-in (and can opt-out), then what’s the issue?
Or is this Karl’s way of saying TechDirt’s UK readers are fat and should use this service? Just kidding. 🙂

Anonymous Coward says:

Obesity and late night fast food tv

I can most assuredly tell you that if you are obese, you sure as hell know it and don’t need to be reminded of it. It is hard as hell living over weight by 40 or 50 lbs.

I would immediately start texting these city council people to tell them they’re ugly and stupid.

What needs to be done is to regulate all the late night fast food commercials on the tele which are constantly reminding us to eat more crap.

I'm_Having_None_Of_It says:

Oh, dear, another day, another stupid idea from Big Brother. So now it’s advice for “fatties?” Where, pray tell, are they getting their info on who the “fatties” are?

Is this how our medical data is being used?

If they really want to get peoples’ weight down shouldn’t they subsidize fruit and veg, and pass laws that stop pubs and clubs charging more for soft drinks than booze? If crap is cheaper, that’s what gets bought.

Chronno S. Trigger (profile) says:

Re: Re:

“Where, pray tell, are they getting their info on who the “fatties” are? “

They sign up. This is opt-in remember.

I personally don’t see a problem with this. It’s impartial advice and encouragement that I would assume is free. This isn’t something based on an ideology like Weight Watchers or the like.

The number one reason why people can’t stick to a diet is lack of enthusiasm. No one outside of yourself really cares about your diet, or even the little goals you accomplish. Yay, you took a walk today. Your 160lb friend doesn’t give a crap. If you can’t get the encouragement from your friends, a bot is your next best thing.

It’s the same for other things like drinking or smoking. It’s a day by day, minute by minute kind of thing. It’s easy to become disillusioned and fall back to old habits. This is why things like AA and Weight Watchers (and now UK government text messages) exist. Mutual support.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Yeah, there’s no issue here. It’s completely voluntary, and I hope it helps some people who want the help.

When I (successfully) quit smoking, though, I learned something about myself — the very LAST thing I needed was “encouragement”. Encouragement only brought back into the front of my mind something that I desperately needed to keep completely out of my consciousness. When you are trying to break an addiction, constantly being reminded of the thing you’re addicted to seems like a bad idea. At least, it was for me. The best possible support I could get from my friends was to have them never mention it, ever.

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

They aren’t wasting money on helping people who don’t want it. Everyone who gets these texts are getting them because they signed up for it — and so they want them.

Maybe we need some kind of system that reminds people to work on their reading comprehension, because a lot of people seem to be sailing right over this fact you mention.

Anonymous Coward says:

BMI used on individuals irk me

BMI can be used on sufficiently large populations but can give dangerously incorrect results for individuals. I know this first hand.
At the end of my teens I were naturally muscular, thin, a little above average height, and had a BMI around 30. I had grown a lot, fast.
I have known women with an BMI at 18 and at 30, without being fat nor skinny,

and known about women with a normal BMI that were harmfully underweight, and still tried to starve themselves to a “preferred” BMI

Most of the population probably should exercise more, and eat more healthy. And fat people have elevated risks. But BMI should not be used as an objective measurement to establish an “ideal” weight. It is not right and causes harm.

Hannan Ahmad says:

What's Happened Before...

Well, it seems like somebody may sue this health club that’s talking to obese people through text while considering it as an abuse. This is the story of a woman that was obese but sued a Croatian Channel since her video was made and advertised without her permission for awareness of obese people.
Anything like this would hurt these efforts.

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