Alice Jones: Surely we don't need satnav devices to guide us through our whole lives


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The Independent Online

Just in time for the Christmas blowout, the NHS has revealed its solution to the obesity crisis – a £1,500 talking plate.

The Mandometer is a small tabletop scale which monitors the rate at which food is disappearing from your plate. If users are eating too quickly, a computerised voice tells them to slow down. A small screen also flashes up helpful messages like "Are you feeling full yet?". To which any sane person's response would surely be "Don't be so nosy", followed by "Why on earth am I talking to my plate?".

Research has shown that guzzlers are 84 per cent more likely to be overweight since speed-eating befuddles the mechanisms which tell the brain that the stomach is full. So the science behind it is sound, but that doesn't make it any less weird. Presumably the Mandometer 2.0 will come with additional features which remind users to sit up straight, take their elbows off the table and eat their greens. Perhaps the manufacturers could also phase in different voice options, satnav style, from scolding schoolmarm to nagging nanny, so users can switch off their brains and proceed through life wholly guided by a familiar-sounding autopilot.

With a quarter of UK adults classified as obese (a figure expected to rise to 40 per cent over the next decade) and 225 people a week admitted to hospital due to obesity, according to new figures, something needs to be done. But is electronic nanny crockery the answer?

A robotic dig in the ribs from Big Brother, it's an eccentric take on the Government's favoured "nudge theory" which champions coaxing people into changing their lifestyles via subtle shifts in their environment rather than imposing outright legislation. While any action on obesity is to be welcomed, for the price of one Mandometer (which is, let's face it, likely to go the way of most hi-tech Christmas presents when the batteries run out) you could provide a whole family with free passes to their local leisure centre for a year. It's slick, expensive gimmickry, a decorative sticking plaster, when what is needed is long-term, well-thought-out reform of the only things – health education, school meals, local exercise facilities – that will make a difference in defusing this lumbering time bomb.