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NHS pays obese men £400 to lose weight – sending daily texts to 'dodge kebabs'

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CHUNKY Brits could be paid to get daily texts from their GP reminding them to lose weight.

A trial found men were more likely to slim down if motivated by a cash prize from the NHS in exchange for receiving the messages and hitting weight loss targets.

Testing the same technique on women is the researchers’ next step.

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Testing the same technique on women is the researchers’ next step.Credit: Alamy

They could win £400 if they lost 10 per cent of their body weight in a year but cash was deducted for missing target weights at three, six and 12 months.

Prompts to keep going were sent to their mobile every day, with hints and tips like avoiding takeaways on the way home from work.

The study, presented at the European Congress on Obesity, saw 585 men in Bristol, Glasgow and Belfast lose an average of five per cent and get paid £128.

Experts hope the scheme would pay for itself through savings on treating weight-related illness further down the line.

Trial leader Dr Pat Hoddinott, from the University of Stirling in Scotland, said: “Our research showed that offering cash incentives was a popular and effective way of helping men to lose weight.

“The weight lost was greater than for a lot of the behavioural weight management services that are currently offered across the UK. 

“Those tend to be very intensive and men told us it was important to make it easy because they didn’t have a lot of time in their lives.”

The government-funded trial was aimed at men because they are less likely to attend or stick with traditional NHS slimming groups.

Men are a particularly difficult group to engage in our healthcare system, so texts and financial incentives is a great way forward

Jane DeVille-AlmondBritish Obesity Society

The male trial continues, and testing the same technique on women is the researchers’ next step.

Dr Hoddinott said the programme, nicknamed “Game of Stones”, is ready to be scaled up across the NHS.

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It lets people diet or exercise any way they want but deducts money from their prize fund if they do not lose weight and keep it off.

Cash is paid out from NHS coffers at the end of the year, with the final amount dependent on how much lighter they were.

Men in the trial earned an average of £128 each and lost significantly more weight than if they received texts with no cash offer, or received neither.

Dr Hoddinott said the scheme only needs four weigh-ins per year, which would be easier for clinics than current NHS weight loss classes that offer 12 sessions a year.

This could also reduce high patient drop-out rates.

She added: “It is difficult to lose weight, and it’s not easy to sustain. 

“As a GP I saw that all the time so that’s why I wanted to design something that was easier for the NHS.”

Research shows the NHS spends an average of £979 to £1,375 per year looking after an obese patient, compared to £638 for someone of a healthy weight.

Jane DeVille-Almond, from the British Obesity Society, said it would likely also end up cheaper than paying staff to run slimming clinics.

Ms DeVille-Almond said: “This is exciting news and we definitely need an easy and cost-effective way of getting society to lose weight.

“Men are a particularly difficult group to engage in our healthcare system, so texts and financial incentives are a great way forward.”

OBESITY IN ENGLAND

Around 38 per cent of adults in England are overweight, and a further 26 per cent are obese.

The NHS says obesity costs £6.1billion a year, but the total cost of all linked conditions is believed to be much higher.

The free digital weight loss programme is open to English adults with a BMI over 30 and have either diabetes or high blood pressure, and involves diet and exercise advice for 12 weeks.

It is also available to people with BMIs of 27.5 or more — meaning they are obese — if they are from Black, Asian or minority ethnicities.

How to lose weight safely

Losing weight should be a long-term commitment to healthier living, rather than any drastic measures.

The NHS tips – which can be adopted slowly – include:

  • Get active for 150 minutes a week – you can break this up into shorter sessions
  • Aim to get your 5 A Day – 80g of fresh, canned or frozen fruit or vegetables count as 1 portion
  • Aim to lose 1 to 2lbs, or 0.5 to 1kg, a week
  • Read food labels – products with more green colour coding than amber and red are often a healthier option
  • Swap sugary drinks for water – if you do not like the taste, add slices of lemon or lime for flavour
  • Cut down on food that’s high in sugar and fat – start by swapping sugary cereal for wholegrain alternatives
  • Share your weight loss plan with someone you trust – they can help motivate you when you have a bad day

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