Martin Moth on digital’s answer to our weight problem

Britain has a weight problem that can only be solved with honest interaction and digital functionality.

Speak your weight machines – where have they gone? Or did they only ever exist in Saturday morning cartoons?

According to stats, most of us wouldn’t want our weight spoken out loud at any time, let alone in a shopping mall or high street. The fact is, and I know because I see the stats from our BMI calculator, which churns out 800k results per month. Once we’ve had our 21st birthday, it’s pretty much downhill in terms of weight management.

Overweight is the new norm. And this extends to our children, where normalisation has meant parents accepting overweight as normal; not unhealthy. This has, in turn, bred an excuse culture in which parents conclude that, ‘all the other kids are the same’.

It seems particularly salient to mention this now, in the aftermath of Christmas, when we all routinely procrastinate, eating and drinking ourselves to a standstill or oblivion, whichever comes first.

In response to the current situation, NHS Choices is currently exploring how we can improve our BMI calculator to better meet user needs. Despite Public Health England and NHS Choices having any number of subject matter experts and policy leads on diet and obesity, we are not the end user, and the age of experts dictating what people need to do is mostly confined to the archives, at least within NHS Digital.

We may think we know best – and experience is still critical in delivering quality tools – but when we see ‘real’ people using our tools, we’re constantly surprised by how difficult or confusing small things can be to people who are occasional or one-off users. We have to concede that, even in the digital universe, the human element is still the most important.

With just two days of testing, we recently increased the rate at which users click through to further information on our Heart Age tool from 3% to 13%. That is a massive improvement, and means an extra 100 people per day now get better information on helping them reduce cardiovascular risk.

If you are looking to create a digital health tool to support medication adherence, or even something as seemingly simple as an internal travel booking form, first do some user research to define what they really want. Google ‘GDS Design Principles’ is a good place to start. It’s short and sweet, and won’t send you to sleep. Trust me, I’m a user.

In the meantime, I’ll use the same rigorous user testing process to help people with the BMI results they receive. This is the digital age and just ‘speaking your weight’ isn’t going to cut it anymore.

Martin Moth is Digital Tools Lead at NHS Choices. Go to nhs.uk/bmi