The contrast between this story and a HealthDay story on the same study was huge. This story focused on the marginally positive findings about herbal teas, without putting the findings into context.
While HealthDay broke down the evidence in a clear, concise way for readers with a headline that read "No Good Evidence That Folk Remedies Ease Colic," this story took the unsupported view that parents should start letting their colicky kids sip herbal tea. Unlike the HealthDay story, the MSNBC site’s "Today Moms" feature made no mention of the limitations of the studies being reviewed, failed to interview an single independent expert and even misstated some of the evidence.
None of the purported benefits of herbal tea (or of any of the other approaches) are quantified, giving readers nothing on which to base their decisions.
No discussion of potential harms nor of overall safety record of the approaches mentioned. We do appreciate, though, that the story said, "The study didn’t include specific instructions on dosage, so check with your pediatrician before trying any herbal remedy."
The story said nothing about the quality of the evidence, despite the fact that the study itself concluded, "
The story starts out by disease-mongering, rubbing the raw nerves of parents by saying, "Next time your fussy, colicky baby has you teetering on the brink of sleep-deprived lunacy, consider a cup of herbal tea." The HealthDay story was much more measured, saying, "In the United States, between 5 and 19 percent of infants are estimated to have colic, according to background information in the article. Because pediatricians can’t offer parents much help with it — for the most part, babies grow out of colic in time — desperate parents often turn to alternative or complementary treatments, according to the study."
The story does not quote a single independent source. HealthDay used two. A general pediatrician could have given the usual sound advice and pointed out that colic is not harmful to the baby and that they grow out of it on their own.
The story does a poor job comparing herbal tea to the other remedies studied in the Pediatrics review. This makes it even harder for us to understand why the MSNBC site chose the headline "How to soothe baby’s colic? Pour a cup of tea" while many other outlets took HealthDay’s approach with headlines such as "Little proof herbs or massage treat baby colic" and "Herbal remedies no help for colicky babies."
The story does not establish the novelty of herbal tea as a treatment for colic, even though it leads readers to believe that herbal tea is the first and best choice. The headline promotes tea as the only treatment that works for colic. And the story says, "Tea –made with chamomile, licorice, fennel and balm mint– was one of the most effective treatments for relieving symptoms of colic, according to a new Pediatrics study, which reviewed 15 randomized clinical trials of alternative treatments for infantile colic." Without providing information about the limitations of those studies, the story makes tea sound like it is a proven cure. And we are bound to see this story used in marketing any day now. We also find it troubling that it cast the evidence — limited though it may be — for probiotics in such a negative light. The story says, "the least effective results came from treatments involving manipulation and probiotic supplements." The study actually found enough promise in one brand of probiotic treatments to call for further study. As the HealthDay story explained, "A study of probiotics, which are reputed to help digestion, found that 95 percent of infants given L. reuteria probiotics seemed to reduce their average crying time compared to 7 percent of babies given simethicone, which is marketed to relieve gas under the brand names Mylicon and PediaCare Infants’ Gas Relief."
Not applicable because we can’t be sure whether the story relied on a news release. We do know that there are no interviews quoted in the piece.