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Study: Obesity surgery reverses diabetes in teens


2 Star

Study: Obesity surgery reverses diabetes in teens

Our Review Summary

This was a story about a recently published study that reported on remission of diabetes in extremely obese youngsters who had gastric bypass as compared to a group of youngsters who were treated with conventional diabetes medications.  The story neglected to critically evaluate the study.

Particular weaknesses:

  • The story explained that the study only looked at 11 young people who had surgery, but didn’t drive home the question of the limitations of such a small study.  Instead, it let an investigator get away with saying this “opened the door” to more such surgery.
  • Costs were not mentioned.
  • Harms of gastric bypass surgery – as seen in adults – were not mentioned.
  • Independent analysis of the study was not included.
  • The story conflated overweight with obesity with type II diabetes – classic disease-mongering.

11 patients?  Would this story have been reported so prominently if it weren’t the week between Christmas and New Year’s?


Does the story adequately discuss the costs of the intervention?

Not Satisfactory

There was no discussion of the costs for weight loss surgery.

Does the story adequately quantify the benefits of the treatment/test/product/procedure?


The story reported that 10 out of the 11 individuals who had gastric bypass surgery experienced a remission in their diabetes. This is an accurate reporting of the study results.

Does the story adequately explain/quantify the harms of the intervention?

Not Satisfactory

Although reporting that ‘Teen candidates for weight-loss surgery need to be carefully selected, he said, since the long-term consequences of the operation for children aren’t yet known.’ , the story failed to mention any of the harms associated with gastric bypass surgery. Those harms are known in adults and these could have been mentioned.

Does the story seem to grasp the quality of the evidence?

Not Satisfactory

The story should have been very clear to point out the limitations of the study it was reporting on rather than simply taking the study’s conclusions at face value. It should have contained information that would have helped the reader put the study in perspective – both in terms of the preliminary nature of the findings and its possible biases.

It was clear that this was a small study, involving only 11 surgical patients.  The story indicated that the youngsters who had weight loss surgery were treated at 5 different hospitals while the control group whose blood sugar was controlled medically where all treated at one location.   It was not clear, however, if the children who were not operated on received any sort of intervention to help facilitate weight loss.  The story mentioned that the children in this non-operative group were ‘mostly obese’.  This suggests that the non-operative group and the surgical group may not have been truly comparable.  

 11 patients? Would this have received national news coverage if it weren’t the week between Christmas and New Year’s???

Does the story commit disease-mongering?

Not Satisfactory

The story stated that ‘a third of U.S. youngsters are either overweight or obese’  but failed to indicate the proportion in this group who are actually extremely obese and neglected to include an estimate (other than ‘increasing numbers) for the percentage that are diagnosed with type II diabetes.  The story also went on to use a quote from a clinician that described the incidence of type II diabetes in children as "It’s marching south through the generations, which is very scary,"  While providing a sense of how this doctor views type II diabetes in children, it does not help the reader understand much about how the lives of those with the disease are affected. The story simply melted overweight into obesity into type II diabetes – classic disease-mongering. 

Does the story use independent sources and identify conflicts of interest?

Not Satisfactory

The story only included a quote from a surgeon involved in the study, adding a quote from an American Diabetes Association spokesman who didn’t actually comment on the study.  So no independent analysis of the study was presented.

Does the story compare the new approach with existing alternatives?

Not Satisfactory

The story did not discuss other options for weight loss other than gastric bypass.  It did not discuss how gastric bypass compared with other surgical procedures for weight loss or other interventions (lifestyle, medication) to provide relief from diabetes.

Does the story establish the availability of the treatment/test/product/procedure?

Not Satisfactory

It was not clear from this story whether weight loss surgery was a common treatment for youngsters who were extremely obese. 

The story did mention that the youngsters in the study who had surgery were operated on at 5 different hospitals.  But it did not explain the significance of this information.  It was not clear whether this indicates that the procedure is conducted so infrequently in youngster that they had to pool results from 5 hospitals in order to have a sufficient number of individuals to report on OR whether the number of hospitals involved indicates that bariatric surgery on youngsters commonly occurs at lots of hospitals.

Does the story establish the true novelty of the approach?


This was a story about the potential for benefit of a surgical intervention that is less commonly used to treat young people.   

Does the story appear to rely solely or largely on a news release?

Not Applicable

We can’t be sure if the story relied largely on a news release.  It only quoted the principal investigator and a spokesman for a diabetes advocacy group.

Total Score: 2 of 9 Satisfactory


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