Has your GP ever sent you an unsolicited triggering text message about your weight? Mine did – SCREENSHOT Media

Has your GP ever sent you an unsolicited triggering text message about your weight? Mine did

By Charlie Sawyer

Updated Feb 8, 2023 at 10:35 AM

Reading time: 2 minutes

The other day, mid-commute, I received an automated text from my local general practice surgery (GP). I’ve received messages from my doctors and the National Health Service (NHS) before and, quite like a dodgy dark alleyway, they’ve always filled me with anxiety. I remember during the recent COVID-19 pandemic, I’d freeze whenever I saw those three letters pop up on my screen—worried that they’d inform me that I’d need to start isolating immediately.

That sense of dread has now subsided and so, extremely innocently, I peered down from behind my copy of Patti Smith’s ‘Just Kids’ and scanned the message nonchalantly, thinking that the text might have something to do with new appointment guidelines or something administrative. Unfortunately, this memo was far more upsetting than I could’ve imagined.

The text read: “Hi Charlotte, are you concerned about your weight? If this is something you are thinking about, there is a weight management service available to you. If you would like to use this service, please reply yes for a referral or no to decline. If you feel you have received this message inappropriately, please respond with your current height and weight to prevent further messages.”

I don’t think I can accurately express how truly devastating it was to receive this message. My stomach immediately dropped. I quickly put my phone on ‘Do Not Disturb’ and shoved it into my work bag—seemingly thinking that that would make the message vanish into thin air.

I arrived at work and spent the entire day thinking about this text. Why had it been sent to me? Was it a personal attack, or a general automated message sent to every registered patient? And if it was personally meant for me, why? Did I have a weight issue? I’d always been insecure about my body, and I had recently put on weight. But I’d never expressed interest in a weight management service and I’d never had a one-to-one consultation with my doctor about this particular issue.

Regardless of its intent, the text had seriously rattled me and subsequently sent me into a highly toxic thought loop of self-deprecation and body insecurity. One that resulted in me completely panicking over lunch options and then guzzling two litres of water in an attempt to flush my system.

It’s clear that the NHS, as well as private GPs, are under immense pressure currently. Nurses are on strike for fair pay and better working conditions. Meanwhile, hospitals are completely overwhelmed to the point of exhaustion. It’s understandable that sometimes, these kinds of automated messages occur without any forethought or pretext.

However, the bluntness and unanticipated nature of this particular message has somewhat derailed my confidence in the health services I’m heavily encouraged to trust.

Promoting health services for those who’re interested and keen to join them is one thing. Practically forcing them upon disinclined individuals is a completely different story. Confronting weight change is a highly sensitive and anxiety-inducing process and pedalling out unsolicited weight shaming texts is the last way a GP practice is going to encourage any of their patients to pursue in-person consultations.

My qualm with this text is not to do with the clinic promoting what they consider to be a ‘healthy’ weight or lifestyle—although that could be an article in itself. My issue with this text is the delivery method. Out of the blue, zero context, zero follow up. I’m not sure what the practice thinks it’s accomplishing with this method, because personally, it’s only going to lessen my desire to ever seek help or guidance from them.