“Maybe walk to the shops or take the stairs more often.” “Aim to eat regular meals and keep a check on snacks and drinks.” “Eat fruit and veg.” These are some of the texts you get when you sign up for a new health program. The sender? The U.K. city of Stoke-on-Trent.
Stoke is starting the controversial project because it reckons that regular reminders are key to changing habits, and because getting people to slim down helps public budgets. “This is all about getting people on board and taking action before they need medical support, which is so expensive and personally upsetting,” a spokesperson told the BBC.
The British public hasn’t been so positive, though. Twitter lit up after the scheme was reported, with many bemoaning the long arm of government and wasted public money. Others said the texts could backfire, giving people a negative self-image (though presumably if they sign up in the first place, they’re not feeling good about themselves).
The program, which runs for 10 weeks, costs $16,000 to taxpayers, including set-up charges. About 500 people will participate voluntarily, all of them above the overweight limit, with a body mass index above 25. Officials say $16,000 is a pittance against the cost of treating obesity-related diseases.
Time will tell if the texts work. Other similar experiments show that it might, if people want to be involved and aren’t forced into anything.