This town thinks annoying you with text messages will help you lose weight

Society is filled with messages telling you're too fat. Now you can get them delivered right to your phone.


EJ Dickson


Published Feb 4, 2014   Updated May 31, 2021, 7:19 pm CDT

You know how your mom always sends you reminder texts to put a scarf on when it’s cold, or leave your clothes off the radiator, or write that thank you note to your aunt for that pair of differently-sized kneesocks you got for Christmas?

Apparently, the council of Stoke-on-Trent, England, got those texts when they were kids, too. And they’ve inspired the city to launch a new pilot program: As part of the its anti-obesity initiative, they’re sending texts to residents encouraging them to lose weight.

According to BBC News, the city council has approved a £10,000, 10-week public health program that will send “motivational” texts to residents who want to shed some poundage.

The 500 residents who’ve signed up for the program will receive such messages as “Use the stairs more,” “Eat more fruit and veg,” and “Why not walk to the shops more often?” You have to be 18 or over and have a BMI of 25 and over to participate in the program, according to Adam Blakeman, the press officer for Stoke-on-Trent city council.

“These texts are all about early intervention, helping people to help themselves,” Blakeman said in an email. “People will be invited to get in touch if they want support.

This is about getting people on board and taking action before they need medical support, which is so expensive and personally upsetting. This saves money and suffering.”

Much like in the United States, obesity is a huge problem in the United Kingdom: an estimated 28 percent of adults and 24 percent of children aged 10-11 are obese, according to stats on the Stoke-on-Trent city council website.

Although some critics have blanched at the high cost of the texting initiative, Adrian Knapper, a cabinet member for health and well-being, says the cost is nothing compared to the £50 million the local NHS spends on fighting obesity per year.

“Our program means people who already want to lose weight and have signed up with us to get support will receive a cheap and effective nudge to help them keep them motivated,” he says.

The question remains, however: How effective is this “nudge,” and is nudging necessarily the best way to convince people to change their lifestyles? While it might help some people to get daily text reminders to use the stairs more and eat more fruits and veggies, for many those kinds of texts translate into “Get your ass up off the couch, stop treating your body like a carnival dumping ground, and stop being so fat and grotesque and useless, k thnx bye.”

It’s unclear whether it’s a good idea for Stoke-on-Trent to spend 10,000 pounds on nagging and guilt-tripping people via SMS, when most of us have moms, dads, and significant others doing it for free on a daily basis.  

H/T BBC News | Photo by Health Gauge/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

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*First Published: Feb 4, 2014, 8:37 pm CST