£10k on 'motivational weightloss texts': money well spent?

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Fat man holding a measuring tape. Weight Loss.

Stoke-on-Trent Council is set to spend £10,000 on a programme intended to motivate people to lose weight. The scheme will send a text message to participants every day, designed to encourage them to adopt healthier habits. So far 500 people have signed up to the scheme.

But can this be money well spent?

The scheme was reported by the Daily Mail, which said the council will spend the money on a ten week scheme. Texts will be sent every day with messages such as 'Why not walk to the shops more often?" and "Why not eat slightly smaller portions?"

The report quotes a councillor who said that obesity had reached epidemic proportions in the area, where 28% of people are obese, so it was running this as a feasibility study to see if it had a noticeable effect.

So is this money well-spent?

On the one hand, personal motivation is a massively important factor in supporting weight-loss. Slimming World has been using texts as part of their package for a while - along with meetings and diet plans.

Stoke-on-Trent has also been using texts to support a number of other health initiatives for the last three years. Those with poor blood pressure control have to send a text with data on their blood pressure and heart rate, and they receive advice based on that data.

If it works, the scheme will save a fortune. The Stoke Sentinel reported that the local NHS spends £50 million a year treating obesity-related illnesses. Compared to that sum, £10,000 is a drop in the ocean.

Waste?

On the other hand, there's nothing new about the information being sent in these texts. There's an argument that people know they ought to eat slightly smaller portions if they want to lose weight, so telling them again through an expensive media is pointless.

Organisations, like Slimming World, that use texts, do so as part of a personalised programme. People receive face-to-face support from a group of people they know, so if their leader sends them a text, it's far more meaningful. It's questionable whether an impersonal text containing no new information is going to be successful enough to justify the £10,000 price tag.

What else?

However, councils around the country are willing to try whatever they can to encourage weight loss. A large number of councils run a 12-week scheme, where participants can access a tailored exercise plan - with a number of classes and specialists. These are either subsidised or free of charge for certain people who are referred by their GP.

Others have funded the establishment of clubs and classes - ranging from 'martial arts for weight-loss' to walking clubs.

One of the more controversial initiatives was a pilot in coastal Kent, which paid people to lose weight. People could choose targets for weight loss over specific periods of time. If they hit the targets they could earn rewards of up to £425 a year. The pilot found that the scheme was roughly as successful as other weight-loss programmes.

But what do you think? Will texts help, or is there a better way to get people to lose weight?