In contrast with the last LA Times piece we reviewed, this Healthy Skeptic column addressed all of our criteria.
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:
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.
The column includes a cost estimate for the products mentioned. This column is consistently good about including cost information.
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.
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.”
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.”
No disease mongering at play here.
Two independent sources were quoted for context and synthesis of the literature.
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.
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. No claims of novelty are made. The column reminds readers that trying a shortcut to weight loss, though tempting, is unlikely to work.
It’s clear that the column did not rely solely or largely on a news release.