NHS Weight Loss app: Three million downloads wasted?

Like millions, I need to lose weight.

And like millions, a well-designed weight loss app could help me change my eating habits. Ideally an app I can trust to put my interests first. And if it’s free, all the better.

While it ticks the ‘free’ and ‘trusted’ boxes, sadly the NHS weight loss app is not well-designed.

How can I be so unequivocal?

Well, take this example. If I search for “apple” on the calorie search – the core feature of this app – then this is what it suggests.

You get similar nonsensical results for “milk”. Or “egg”. Or “Twix”.

You might think I’m being unfair, cherry-picking the examples I’m sharing. I’m really not. It even suggests “Apple” as the example foodstuff you might want search for.

The most fundamental user need a weight loss app needs to meet is the ability to track what food you’ve eaten. Get this foundational part of the user experience wrong and I’ll wager it’ll be near the top of reasons why people ditch a diet-tracking app.

This app has the feel of a product that isn’t – and maybe never has been – product managed. No product manager I’ve met would ever have let this app go live with this flaw. And even if they had, they’d be tracking and researching user retention and spot that this problem is causing a lot of users to give up on the app. Then they’d fix it, pronto.

It’s been like this since launch, during which time roughly three million people in the UK have been motivated enough to install the app.

I wonder how many have since gave up their diet due to this and other basic design flaws, and at what cost to their – and hence the nation’s – health?

Actually, I needn’t wonder too hard. A February 2021 evaluation of the app by Public Health England reported that, of the 864,403 people who’d installed the app to that date, only 8,305 went on to complete the 12-week weight loss plan.

A sub-1% completion rate sadly tells its own story.

According to Google App Store, as of today this app is published by the Department of Health and Social Care. I work in this sector, and I’ve honestly no idea which organisation now actually runs the thing day-to-day, otherwise I’d have sent this via email and not resorted to blogging.

But maybe someone could ask one of the excellent product managers and designers who work in the NHS to apply their skills to getting this app to meet the needs of its users?

Doing so could make a different to millions of people’s lives. I suspect few taxpayer pounds would be better spent, especially if one thinks long-term.

Update 28 April: Some kind folk on Twitter let me know that the app is now the responsibility of the new Office for Health Improvement and Disparities, part of the the Department of Health and Social Care. They reportedly have a rationalisation programme to assess the digital estate inherited as part of the closure of Public Health England, which originally commissioned the app. Hopefully this app will get some much-needed attention soon, albeit I suspect it’ll be on a ‘kill or cure’ basis.

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