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A simple test proven to predict how long you’ll live? Gannett gaffe

A veteran health care journalist sent me the following story and wrote, “So irresponsible, bad enough on local (TV) news, but it ends up on USA Today? I hope you can skewer it.”

“How long will you live? Try the Sitting Rising Test,” was the headline on USA Today’s website as they posted a TV news story and a web story from KSDK-TV in St. Louis.  Both media organizations are owned by Gannett.

It was an unquestioning story about a Brazilian researcher’s work on a measurement of “non-aerobic physical fitness” – how easily can you rise without help from a sitting position? It’s called the Sitting Rising Test or SRT.

The story called it a “simple test you can do just about anywhere that’s been proven to predict how long you’ll live.”

Hmm.

The story explained that you “lose points” for being off balance or needing support.  The reporter said, “for every point you get, there’s a 21% decrease in mortality from all causes.”

There was nothing in the story about the sensitivity or specificity of the test.  This is always something readers should look for in news about tests.

The story also stated, “If you have bad knees or hips, don’t try this at home.”  Is the story implying that those with bad knees or hips are destined to fail, and to die sooner? (In fact, that’s how one USA Today reader read it, leaving this comment online: “I guess I’m dying soon because my knees are shot. From arthritis and osteoporosis. I don’t think this is a fair test at all.” Another wrote: “According to this, I am already dead.”)

Since the TV story showed many of the station’s personnel trying the test, I’m sure that in-house it was a laugher – and very popular since so many staffers got additional face time on the air.

But how well did the station inform and educate its audience with the story?  And how well did USA Today vet the story before passing it along to its online readers and viewers?

In a past publication in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology, the Brazilian researcher in the story wrote:

“In conclusion, a low score on a simple functional assessment tool, the (sitting rising test) SRT, was associated with >6-fold higher all-cause mortality in men and women. The SRT therefore may be a useful tool for screening, functionally classifying, and risk stratifying large samples of subjects.”

Let’s clear something up:  “Associated with” is not the same as “proven to predict.”

Let me emphasize a couple of other points:

  1. This is interesting research.  But this is not the way to report on such preliminary research, with definitive claims not supported by evidence.
  2. Dr. Araujo’s work has received a tremendous amount of publicity.  Just do a Google search and you’ll see many stories.
  3. This is not the first time we’ve seen the USA Today website republish – or cross-promote – a flawed story done by another Gannett-owned property. We recently wrote about another troubling cross-promotion involving USA Today and a Jacksonville TV station.

Finally, I often like to check how online readers scrutinize stories.  Here are some comments left on the USA Today website:

  • I say this is hogwash. Due to injuries I’ve had several knee surgeries. However, I can still ride a unicycle and juggle. This ‘test’ has zero to do with balance and a huge amount to do with whether you’ve had severe knee injuries in the past. I give the test a 1 on the scale of 1 to 10. Further, my resting heart rate is 54 and my BP is 110/65. I’d rather ask the classic 8 Ball than rely on this ‘test’.
  • I believe 73 year old Stephen Hawking would disagree with the validity of this study. It would be safe to say for the last 50 years he could not have passed the sit and rise test. Sadly this is the worst junk science and USA today should be ashamed for putting this on their site.
  • As a fitness professional I realize that this test is rather limited in scope. But overall, it does address several areas that are extremely telling for one’s fitness and health. If serious injuries prevent someone from being able to do this test, it is not for you; it doesn’t mean there is no validity in the research. Having difficulty getting yourself off the floor IS a contributing factor for poor health – sans a physical injury. Take it for what it is, a limited test that reveals areas of health. It is NOT the GOLD standard by any means.
  • My friend pooped her pants trying this, so what is her future?

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Comments (6)

Please note, comments are no longer published through this website. All previously made comments are still archived and available for viewing through select posts.

Claudio Gil Araujo

February 28, 2015 at 12:09 pm

Thanks for taking your time to make some comments regarding one of my research studies peer-reviewed and published in a very prestigious journal of the European Society of Cardiology. You are right in saying that this study and the sitting-rising test got considerable publicity all over the world in both medical and lay press. Indeed it has been featured in over one thousand of news, websites and blogs from more than 200 countries, including a nice two-page story in the Discover Magazine in 2013. our YouTube video explaining the SRT has accumulated almost half million views so far. On the other hand, several of your comments about potential flaws in our statistical data analysis are inappropriate. Sensitivity etc are primarily used for diagnostic tests which, of course, is not the case. A long time partner in several other research studies, Dr. Jonathan Myers from Stanford University is one of our coauthor in the paper and had made significant contributions for this specific analysis. As you surely know epidemiological observational studies are one of the substrates for evidence-based medicine. The results of these studies are not to be used to directly predict for a given individual but as a guide for health management. As one example we know that in a pair of identical twins the one that is smoker, obese and sedentary tend to die earlier than the one that does not present these unhealthy features but a tragic car accident in the next morning can abruptly change this natural order. The SRT should be interpretated in this context. That simple: those between 51-80 years of age scoring higher will have a higher probability of being live in the next six years as compared with those scoring between 0 to 3. The most remarkable thing is that, in a time of important discussions about health costs, the SRT is not only simple, reliable and safe but is also easy to perform, to evaluate and to explain the results for the subject and no require equipment, large space or long time. So you should not be surprised if in your next consultation your physician request you to sit and rise from the floor. It could just be part of his examining routine. Finally, I was very pleased in having the chance of talking long time and being interviewed by the KSDK – TV anchor reporter Kay Quinn. I think that she made a nice story specially by being careful enough in not only read the entire paper but in contact me directly for more explanations and details. Regards from Rio de Janeiro

    Gary Schwitzer

    February 28, 2015 at 6:07 pm

    Dr. Araujo,

    Thank you for writing, and for emphasizing that “The results of these studies are not to be used to directly predict for a given individual but as a guide for health management.”

    The point of my criticism of the news story in question is that it did make the claim that the test was – quoting the story now – “proven to predict how long you’ll live.”

    Gary Schwitzer
    Publisher, HealthNewsReview.org and the Health News Watchdog blog
    Adjunct Associate Professor, University of Minnesota School of Public Health
    Director, Center for Media Communication and Health, UMN SPH
    https://www.healthnewsreview.org//about-us/reviewers/gary-schwitzer/

Kay Quinn

February 28, 2015 at 5:26 pm

Dr. Araujo’s findings have been published in peer-reviewed medical journals, details he was able to share with me in our many email exchanges and our Skype interview. While a short television segment is not adequate time to detail all of his years of work on this topic, any time we can inspire viewers to see their level of fitness from a new perspective is of value. I have a great deal of respect for Dr. Araujo’s work and I know we can all learn from his data.

    Gary Schwitzer

    February 28, 2015 at 6:17 pm

    Kay,

    Thanks for your note.

    Publication in a peer-reviewed medical journal does not make any study sacrosanct. If you’re not familiar with the work of Dr. John Ioannidis, you might start by reading his seminal paper in PLoS Medicine, “Why Most Published Research Findings Are False.

    The “short television segment” found plenty of time to show plenty of newsroom staff joking around and trying the test. That time could have been used to evaluate the evidence and explain its limitations.

    The story’s claim that the test has been “been proven to predict how long you’ll live” was inaccurate.

    As I wrote, I think Dr. Araujo’s research is interesting and important. But no one should try to make it into something that it isn’t.

    Gary Schwitzer
    Publisher, HealthNewsReview.org and the Health News Watchdog blog
    Adjunct Associate Professor, University of Minnesota School of Public Health
    Director, Center for Media Communication and Health, UMN SPH
    https://www.healthnewsreview.org//about-us/reviewers/gary-schwitzer/

      Dale Anderson

      March 2, 2015 at 12:59 pm

      Gary—here’s a MN idea that would be a great project for one of your students at the U of MN DPH.
      How can Method Acting be brought to the stage of Health Care? When the Theater Arts think medically and the Medical Arts Theatrically—Dramatic Health Benefits will result. Minnesota—the North Star State—is a leader in health, happiness, longevity and the Theater.
      http://www.startribune.com/lifestyle/health/294072251.html

      Gary Schwitzer

      March 2, 2015 at 1:16 pm

      Dale,

      What a surprise to see your comment!

      My wife and I have been talking about that Strib article since we saw it.

      You now have us both walking backwards occasionally!

      Gary Schwitzer