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City texts obese residents to remind them to lose weight

The English town of Stoke-on-Trent decides to text those who are seriously overweight. The intention is to be motivational. But won't it just be annoying?

The city of Stoke-on-Trent. StaffsLive/YouTube screenshot by Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

When your big brother tells you that your love handles have love handles, you accept it as a gesture of caring.

But if Big Brother texts you to say, "Keep a check on snacks and drinks," then you might think: "Oh, stuff that."

I wonder, you see, about the psychology currently being employed by the apparatchiks of Stoke-on-Trent.

This is an English city once ranked the sixth best micro city in Europe. It is also known for its pottery. Some might think its latest idea is a little potty.

As the BBC reports, the local council is spending 10,000 British pounds (around $16,270) to send so-called motivational texts to those considered obese.

These texts have messages such as: "Eat fruit and veg." And: "Use the stairs more."

Up to 500 people can sign up to receive such encouragements. Stoke-on-Trent has 70,000 classified as obese.

The city's Adrian Knapper defended the scheme to the BBC by saying that 10,000 British pounds is what it normally costs to make just one weight-loss intervention.

He added: "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 keep them motivated."

The issue, of course, is whether sending texts will indeed be effective.

One resident of Stoke classed as obese, Nathan Troni, told the BBC: "I don't know whether it would feel like nagging, though. I've already got my wife to do that."

Others wondered whether texts could ever be effective when the vital ingredient was their own willpower.

Still, perhaps Stoke-on-Trent will prove that texting can work.

I am worried, though, about the impersonal, schoomarmish tone of the texts. Isn't there a more colorful and human way to encourage?

Or does the Stoke-on-Trent city council believe it must keep up appearances?