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.
11 patients? Would this story have been reported so prominently if it weren’t the week between Christmas and New Year’s?
There was no discussion of the costs for weight loss surgery.
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.
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.
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???
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.
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.
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.
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.
This was a story about the potential for benefit of a surgical intervention that is less commonly used to treat young people.
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.