Health News Review

In contrast with the last LA Times piece we reviewed, this Healthy Skeptic column addressed all of our criteria.

Our Review Summary

Timely consumer information – analyzing claims made about weight loss products just as many New Year’s resolutions start to hit their second week.

In typical Healthy Skeptic fashion, clear language cuts through the claims:

  • “there are no well-designed studies showing that caffeine works better than placebo”
  • users “might shed some weight through water loss, but that’s not the kind of slimming most users are looking for”
  • “I tell (patients) it’s definitely not going to be as helpful as 30 minutes of exercise.”

Why This Matters

Why does it matter for a major newspaper to take on weight loss claims like this?  Because overweight people are vulnerable to claims of a quick fix – a pop-a-pill solution.  The $50-or-so per month cost of the products could go toward a fitness center membership instead.


Criteria

Satisfactory

Does the story adequately discuss the costs of the intervention?

Satisfactory

The column includes a cost estimate for the products mentioned.  This column is consistently good about including cost information.

Satisfactory

Does the story adequately quantify the benefits of the treatment/test/product/procedure?

Satisfactory

The column allows promoters of products to make their claims, but then quotes an independent professor of pharmacy saying that, to his knowledge, there are no well-designed studies showing that caffeine works better than placebo for weight loss.

Satisfactory

Does the story adequately explain/quantify the harms of the intervention?

Satisfactory

The story ends with a Duke fitness expert warning that “too much caffeine — such as the high doses found in Zantrex — could cause jitteriness, anxiety, spikes in blood pressure and rapid heartbeats in some people.”

Satisfactory

Does the story seem to grasp the quality of the evidence?

Satisfactory

An independent professor of pharmacy is quoted saying that, to his knowledge, there are no well-designed studies showing that caffeine works better than placebo for weight loss.

One study of caffeine increasing metabolic rate was cited, but with the note that “there’s no clear evidence this translates into weight loss.”

Satisfactory

Does the story commit disease-mongering?

Satisfactory

No disease mongering at play here.

Satisfactory

Does the story use independent sources and identify conflicts of interest?

Satisfactory

Two independent sources were quoted for context and synthesis of the literature.

Satisfactory

Does the story compare the new approach with existing alternatives?

Satisfactory

An independent expert says in the story:

“…patients often ask about caffeine as a weight-loss aid. “I tell them it’s definitely not going to be as helpful as 30 minutes of exercise.” (He) says a little caffeine before a workout might help a person exercise harder and longer, which could theoretically help them control their weight. But the real credit would go to the exercise, not the caffeine.

Satisfactory

Does the story establish the availability of the treatment/test/product/procedure?

Satisfactory

The column says that one of the products mentioned is available at many drugstores.  There isn’t any comment on availability of the other product mentioned.  We’ll give the story the benefit of the doubt on this one.

Not Applicable

Does the story establish the true novelty of the approach?

Not Applicable

Not applicable.  No claims of novelty are made. The column reminds readers that trying a shortcut to weight loss, though tempting, is unlikely to work.

Satisfactory

Does the story appear to rely solely or largely on a news release?

Satisfactory

It’s clear that the column did not rely solely or largely on a news release.

Total Score: 9 of 9 Satisfactory


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