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My issues with the government’s proposed calorie-counting reward app

With around one in four adults in the UK now classed as obese, the obesity crisis continues to grow. In response, the government is trying to implement new ways of tackling the crisis – the latest addition being their proposed rewards app. Although the exact details of this app are still unknown, I don’t think it’s the solution, and it may even do more harm than good.

The scheme is set to be launched in January, and preparations are well underway. A Whitehall source told The Telegraph: “There is a whole team in Downing Street working on this, and the Prime Minister thinks that we simply cannot go on as before, and that we must now tackle it head on.”

What we know so far is that the app will offer a rewards programme featuring points, discounts, or free tickets for families who eat healthier and exercise more. While this may sound great on the surface, I think it could be extremely problematic if not monitored very carefully.

Young people are already under so much pressure from their peers, family, and society – adding an app into the mix does not seem like the best idea

The main issue I have with the proposed app is the simple fact that it is an app. This means that it will probably be used more commonly among younger generations. Eating disorders can happen to anyone and at any age – but it is still true, however, that due to influences such as social media, the younger generations are usually more vulnerable. A recent study has shown the huge rises in body dysmorphia in adolescents, with the mean age of the group studied being just 16.81 years old. Young people are already under so much pressure from their peers, family, and society – adding an app into the mix does not seem like the best idea.

Some may argue that the app will not be triggering in any way, hence making my previous point invalid. However, I think that any potential effects the app may have need to be studied carefully, even if the majority of users would not be affected. I previously voiced my concerns over calorie tracking apps such as MyFitnessPal, and I think that many of the same issues will apply to this app, if it is not carefully designed.

Another issue that I have with the app is that the logistics seem to be near impossible (at least in my head, I hope they make more sense to the developers). The rewards will supposedly be based on your shopping habits and exercise. But how will this work if you shop at multiple shops, buy groceries for somebody else, or buy your fruit and veg at local stores or markets? I don’t see a way for the app to know exactly what you are consuming without you manually imputing everything you eat. On top of this, there is a risk that it could be discriminatory towards some disabled people. For example, those who cannot walk may not be able to get their steps in, hence missing out on the exercise reward. Those who have their shopping bought for them by someone else will also miss out.

It is very important to consider all the other ways of tackling the obesity crisis which may be less damaging than a rewards app

I think this is a good idea on paper, but the more you delve into it, the more complicated it becomes. There are already some apps out there that help convert your steps/exercise into gift cards and rewards. Therefore, if somebody wants such a product, they can already access it.

It is very important to consider all the other ways of tackling the obesity crisis which may be less damaging than a rewards app. For instance, the sugar tax which came into force in 2018 has reduced the consumption of sugar from soft drinks by 10%. Another measure coming into effect next year is a ban on junk food advertising before 9pm. I do believe that measures such as taxes and advert bans are much less likely to have adverse effects when compared to a rewards programme.

It would be good to see more affordable and accessible opportunities for sport, particularly for children and young people. Exercising is not only good for our mental and physical health, but is also a way to help us out of the obesity epidemic.

The rewards app may help some people in the short term, however, in the long run it is likely to do more harm than good.

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