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?