Stoke-on-Trent City Council is sending texts to obese people in the area to help motivate them to lose weight.
Over 100,000 people in the region are overweight or obese, the council said, and the texts are for those who are aged at least 18, have a body mass index (BMI) of 25 or over and who have proactively signed up to receive the motivational messages.
They will be sent daily texts, a weekly questionnaire and a follow-up questionnaire. A sample of 500 recipients will also have a telephone interview. All this, plus the licence for the NHS-owned Simple Telehealth text service is equal to £10,000.
‘Use the stairs more’
The council said it is a tried and tested approach used by private sector organisations like Slimming World, and that this ‘early intervention’ initiative is cheaper than ‘cure’.
“Our public health team are using the texting technique as just one part of a comprehensive set of public health activities to help and support people in changing their lifestyles,” said Adrian Knapper, Cabinet Member for health, well being and culture at the council.
“This approach has already been used very effectively by a network of clinicians across the UK in prompting people with a range of medical problems.”
He added: “It costs £10,000 on average to perform just one intervention operation to help people manage their weight and the costs of obesity for the local NHS in terms of increased levels of disability, disease and early death are frightening - £50 million a year. Our programme 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 motivated.
‘Keep a check on snacks’
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.