This story reported on the outcomes from a study that compared three dietary approaches for their potential to facilitate weight loss and improvement of other clinical measures such as cholesterol profile and blood sugar. The story provided viewers with sufficient information about study outcomes to enable them to grasp the impact possible with dietary change. The story lacked certain key pieces of information such as the type of study (randomized clinical trial) , the length of the study (2 years) and the lack of long-term data on benefits and harms. In addition, we think the story should have commented on the common pattern of weight regain with any of these diets. Finally, there was no independent perspective – only the input of the principal investigator, who, the reporter clumsily testified, swore off any influence from one of the funders of the study, the Atkins Foundation. Still, a single source science story is a bad idea.
The story did not include any information about how much it would cost to follow any of the three diets. In today’s economy, if there are differences, we should be told about them.
The story accurately quantified the weight loss observed with the various diets. This allows viewers to have a realistic picture of the magnitude of benefit. In addition, the story mentioned how the diets compared in terms of other outcomes such as changes in cholesterol or blood sugar in diabetes. However, it should have discussed the time frame over which the benefits accrued and the likelikhood (not great) that the weight loss and health benefits were going to be long-lasting in all patients.
The story did not mention any potential for harms associated with any of the diets studied – except for a brief mention of cholesterol concerns with the Atkins diet.
The story accurately reported on the outcomes from the story reported on. But it did not provide viewers with information about the nature of the study design, in this case a randomized trial, that might help viewers assess the weight to place on the study results. In addition, they failed to discuss the length of time over which the study was conducted. The story did not discuss the limitations due to lack of long-term follow-up.
Although the story did include a graphic about the number of Americans reporting that they are on a diet, the story did not engage in overt disease mongering.
Although one of the study authors was interviewed for this story, it did not include any independent sources of information. Single source science stories are inadequate. The segment ended with a clumsy statement about the principal investigator disavowing any influence from the Atkins Foundation, which supported the research.
Although there was some discussion at the end of this story about the role of portion size and total caloric intake as factors impacting weight loss, the story did not adequately address other factors, such as exercise, or other weight loss strategies that may be employed to facilitate weight loss.
The story did an adequate job describing the diets so as to enable a viewer to know how they differed from more common food consumption patterns.
The story made no claims about the novelty of these diets and really didn’t need to; they are well known.
The story did not appear to rely on a press release.