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A laser that ‘melts’ belly fat? ABC Good Morning America blasts away credibility

Gary Schwitzer is Publisher of HealthNewsReview.org. He Tweets as @garyschwitzer, or under our project signature, @HealthNewsRevu.

David Allison, PhD, of the University of Alabama-Birmingham – and his colleagues – publish a weekly newsletter called “Obesity and Energetics Offerings” in which they shine a spotlight regularly on what news headlines say versus what the studies actually said or showed.

Last week they pointed to an ABC News piece headlined,”SculpSure: Can This Nonsurgical Procedure Melt Body Fat?

This was one time when Allison et al didn’t need to point to a study; they pointed to an excerpt deep in the story itself which answered the headline-tease question. The story explains, “There are no independent medical studies that prove the procedure works to ‘melt’ fat.”

Which should lead ABC followers to wonder why ABC played the tease game with the headline – and why this was newsworthy at all at this point.

laser that melts belly fatBut, you see, ABC’s Good Morning America – a longtime bottom-feeder of vapid health care news – was beginning a series on “Cutting Edge Beauty.”  And somebody in the editorial office decided that a laser that melts belly fat was worth calling “cutting edge.”

But the dissonance between ABC’s on-air and online story versions was head-spinning.  The on-air video piece stated, without qualification, that the laser procedure “melts away stubborn fat.” A far more definitive answer than what the studio segment that followed – or the online version – provided.

If you’re keeping score at home, here’s the recap:

  • Online headline asks “Can this melt body fat?”
  • Online story later states,”There are no independent medical studies that prove the procedure works to ‘melt’ fat.”
  • Pre-produced video segment on the air states definitively that the procedure “melts away body fat.”

Anybody’s head spinning after that?

Both online and on-air versions allowed the MD promoting the laser approach in the story to call it “amazing.”

But ABC’s Dr. Jennifer Ashton appeared in the studio following the video piece and said, “We don’t know, it’s too new,” in answer to a question about the lasting effects of the procedure. She described the results as “subtle.”

laser that melts belly fat“We have to remember the alternatives here. Healthy diet and exercise are better for you not only on the outside but on the inside…..And then there’s always the novel concept: Accept yourself as you are.”

So why did they report it at all?

The story fails terribly on what are arguably the most important of our 10 criteria:

  • The on-air version never mentioned the $1,500 per session cost. (The online story did, but how many morning TV viewers went to the website as well?)
  • The on-air story mentioned that the data show “that you will see a 25% reduction in your subcutaneous fat.”  Whoa: Everyone will see that reduction?   No such clarifying data were provided.
  • The on-air story didn’t provide any information on potential harms.
  • There was no independent perspective – only the MD who was interviewed and he was a true believer-user.
  • There was no evaluation of the quality of the evidence – except to say that it’s “too new” and that the changes are “subtle.”
  • Dr. Ashton’s studio appearance does get points for belatedly tapping the brakes on this story and reminding viewers about alternatives – and less invasive alternatives at that, including “accept yourself as you are.”

It was more gee-whiz GMA sugar-coated, low-fiber health news coverage.

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