Any story with a clever headline announcing surprising results of a study involving a simple household item immediately raises concerns that the findings are being distorted, trivialized or sensationalized.
But this report on a study suggesting chewing gum may speed recovery after colon surgery is responsible and informative. More specifically:
It’s based on a credible study published in a top-shelf medical journal
It discusses the results in enough detail so a reader can appreciate the limitations of the findings
It quotes an independent expert skeptical about the findings, who describes alternatives to the studied treatment
Although it’s based on a meta-analysis, whose findings should not drive treatment decisions, the treatment is one which people are not going to try themselves. This eliminates the risk of people treating themselves based on inconclusive findings.
It’s worth pointing out that a 101-word edit of this article, published by the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram, fails nearly all of the HealthNewsReview.org criteria. That brief squeezes in all of the positive findings but none of the caveats or context that help a reader determine the value of the study.
This is not a failure of editing text so much as it is failure in editorial decision-making. If only 101 words will fit, there’s probably better use to make of that space rather than a provocative, one-sided report on a health issue.
The story says gum costs "a few pennies." The study itself puts the cost at 4 cents per stick.
The report does a good job of handling the statistics, with proper caveats. The story reports:
The story does include a comment from a physician who warns that someone chewing gum after surgery may swallow air, which can create problems.
The story explains that the findings come from an analysis of five studies, alluding to the fact that this was a meta-analysis. The story could have given a line about the quality of such evidence.
The story does not exaggerate the complications following colon surgery.
The story is based on a credible meta-analysis published in a top-shelf journal. The report includes comments from both a study co-author and a skeptical independent expert.
The independent expert interviewed offers an alternative to chewing gum to speed recovery–introducing liquids and then foods after surgery. He also recommends avoiding the use of pain killers to speed recovery time.
The availability of sugarless chewing gum is not in dispute.
The story makes no claims for the novelty of the treatment. By indicating the meta-analysis is based on five previous studies, the article implies it’s been used before.
The story does not draw excessively from the press release.