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.”
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 me emphasize a couple of other points:
Finally, I often like to check how online readers scrutinize stories. Here are some comments left on the USA Today website:
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