Researchers at Children’s Hospital Oakland Research Institute (CHORI; recently renamed UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital) announce the development of a “micronutrient and fiber-dense supplement bar” that apparently led to improved metabolism and weight loss in overweight and obese individuals in clinical trials. But a supplement bar that prompts weight loss would be an extraordinary development (assuming it contains no amphetamines), and so we’d need some accordingly robust evidence to back up such claims. Unfortunately, this news release isn’t up to the task. Though it cites “broad scale health improvements” in the headline, the release offers no data that would substantiate a beneficial effect to consumers of the “CHORI bar.” It provides only vague, advertising-like claims such as this one: “The full potential of food-based supplements to do the work of some drugs without their negative side effects is just beginning to be seriously investigated.”
Who would not jump at the chance to consume something as simple-sounding as a nutrient bar that leads to weight loss? If the CHORI bar is the real thing, it will be a boon to individuals seeking to lose weight, as well as to the coffers of its developers and manufacturers. Given that it is still in clinical trials and that scientists have yet to discover the constituents of the bar that work this magic on our metabolism, however, the CHORI bar deserves a muted response from journalists and the public.
There is nary a mention of cost, although participants in the clinical studies consumed two CHORI bars per day for a couple of months, suggesting anyone relying on this intervention will need to keep beaucoup bars in the pantry.
The peer-reviewed article on which the news release is based quantifies the results of the study, which don’t seem to square with a claim of “broad scale health improvement.” According to the study abstract, a group of “less-inflamed” participants lost 2.4 pounds of body weight over the course of 2 months while eating the bars. But the news release refers generally only to such things as “improved metabolism” and “reduction in weight and waist circumference,” offering no specifics.
The text extols the benefits of the bars with no mention of possible harms. We’d suggest that there is possible harm in replacing actual foods containing a wide variety of nutrients (and many potentially beneficial compounds that we don’t know anything about) with a supplement bar processed in a factory. The peer-reviewed rendition of the study also finds no clear downsides, although it did note that “chronic inflammation [which can accompany obesity] blunted most improvements,” suggesting that some folks will be helped far less by the bars than will others.
The release clearly states that the findings are the result of clinical trials, but it does not indicate that only 43 individuals participated in those trials and that the studies were not randomized. It also doesn’t explain that researchers didn’t monitor what else the participants were eating during the studies. As the researchers acknowledge, “it is not known whether participants altered their food choices or consumed fewer calories during the trials. If such changes occurred, they could have contributed to the positive effects observed.” We think the release needed a bit more about these limitations to earn a Satisfactory rating here.
Obesity is a big problem, and this press release does not overstate it. That said, the contribution that the CHORI bar might make to reducing the problem is hard to determine.
One can find no information about either funding or potential conflicts of interest. A brief look at the manuscript reveals that the investigators were funded by the CHORI itself, a charitable foundation, and the lab company Quest Diagnostics. A number of industry sponsors provided the materials for the bars, including Dow Chemical.The study authors reportedly have a patent on the CHORI bar concept.
The story notes, “Conventional approaches that encourage weight loss by improving dietary habits, reducing caloric intake and modifying activity can be successful, but prove difficult for many to initiate and sustain.” We’ll call that sufficient for a Satisfactory rating here.
One can only assume that something at the clinical trial stage is not yet available to consumers. But the press release does not make that clear. Some enthusiastic commenters out there can’t wait to get their hands on the product!
The text makes a strong pitch for novelty, indicating that the CHORI bar is unlike the typical nutrient bar that one can buy in the store. And yet the news release notes that this has been in development for 10 years and there have been prior publications from the authors in clinical tests.
The release makes unjustified claims of “broad health improvement” that aren’t backed up by evidence The very idea that the bar may be effective for individuals who make no other changes in their diet or physical activity levels is highly questionable. The release crosses over into salesmanship in several instances such as this one: “The power of nutrient-rich, properly formulated food-based supplements, such as the CHORI-bar, to move dysregulated metabolism in a healthy direction may help reverse obesity-associated conditions, and thereby reduce the risk of future chronic diseases.”