This extremely brief television news segment about a non-surgical treatment for morbid obesity manages to describe the procedure, contrast it with conventional treatment, and indicate that it is being studied and not yet available.
Yet as the ratings here show, both the brevity of the story and the way the time is used leave the story short of journalistic best practices.
At the very least, the report should have:
Ideally it also would have explained a bit more about the findings so far–which patients have been helped the most, what the side effects have been, whether there have been any surgical complications and so on. These findings should have been compared to what is known about conventional gastric bypass surgery.
The segment failed to disclose the cost (or expected cost) of the procedure.
The segment does nothing to report results, other than to say that on average patients in the trials lost nearly 40 percent of their body weight.
The story fails to report possible harms of the treatment. While it enumerates the ways in which harms are less likely to occur with the non-surgical method, it says nothing about the harms that pertain to both. These include weight regain as patients find ways to consume high amounts of calories anyway, and nutritional deficiencies.
The segment fails to report any evidence from the ongoing trials. The only figure cited is that patients can lose up to 40 percent of their body weight. The segment fails to say, as the press release does, that weight loss in this group has been less than in those who have conventional bypass surgery.
The story does nothing to exaggerate the dangers of morbid obesity.
The segment quotes the one patient who has had the procedure, and one of the physicians treating her.
The reporter should have talked to an independent source.
The fact that the patent-holder on the procedure funded the trials should have been disclosed.
The segment correctly says the main option for obesity of over 100 excess pounds is conventional bypass surgery.
Other interventions for weight loss that are sometimes successful for other populations, such as diet and exercisse, have not been shown effective for the morbidly obese.
The story is very clear that this procedure has been performed only twice in the U.S., and has been tested on over 40 people overseas. It says the procedure is not approved for use in the U.S.
The segment properly reports that the procedure has been done on only two people in the U.S. and around 40 people abroad.
We can’t be sure about the extent to which the story relied on the press release. We do know that the story uses the same patient that is named in the news release. We also know that no independent expert source was interviewed.