Texting: A New Tool in The Fight Against Hunger and Obesity

textdrive304In battle for healthy living, striking the balance between hunger and obesity has never seem as challenging or ironic as it does today. For some countries obesity is a major hazard while in others, hunger. Can the technology behind texting and cell phones come to aid for both?

For residents of Stoke-on-Trent, the technology help comes in the form of voluntary texting reminders – to eat more fruit, to walk a little more, or to snack less. It’s a 10 week program that will cost the city  £10,000. The  hefty price tag allows the city to text motivational reminders for up to 500 volunteers, a small portion of the city’s 70,000 obese residents. If successful, it might be able to put a dent in the city’s  £50 million per year spending on weight-related illness. however, most people including Hope Chang of Chell Health thinks the optimism is misguided, as the success of weight loss comes from personal will power, not text reminders from strangers.

Meanwhile in Chikwawa, Malawi, community health worker, Stephane January is a using cell phone to do text-based nutrition monitoring. Each text message sends data about child’s identification and measurements – all collected at a UNICEF funded server 250 miles away that helps to track and analyze data about the region’s poor nutrition problem. The information helps January determine if there are signs of malnutrition or if the child needs immediate medical attention.

The program coordinator, John Mugawa, said, ” The technology has helped us to analyze data and give feedback on the spot. The data doesn’t need to pass through the hospital, and can go straight to the clinician in Lilongwe.” With only one doctor per every 44,000 residents, the program can help the country maintain a healthy population. With childhood malnutrition leads to long term developmental issues including cognitive development, economic productivity, and eventual maternal reproductivity.

While the texts themselves cannot provide nutrition, it’s important to track the data for outreach programs to step in and offer assistance. Further, with 90% of the Malawans with radio access, community stations can also be used to teach the population about proper children nutrition.