More information was needed on how well these diet plans might work in the real world. There is no information on who dropped out of the study or how well the two groups were able to adhere to the diet. Single source, straight from a news release. Bad news.
Obesity and hypertension are both prevalent and use of low carbohydrate diets is a very common strategy to combat them.
Also important: What’s the point of health journalism if not to critically examine the claims put out by press offices?
Cost is particularly important when many patients may have to pay out of pocket for weight loss drugs. The story does not provide any information about the cost of orlistat, the cost of the food in the study diets, or the cost of the counseling provided to study participants.
A quotation from one of the study researchers suggests that a low-carb diet might be a cheaper alternative to a low-fat diet plus medication. While this is certainly possible, it also seems possible that low-carb eating, with its emphasis on protein from meat, would be more expensive than low-fat eating, and that this would cancel out any savings on medication. In any case, making any kind of judgment in this area would require more hard data, but the story provides only speculation.
The story earns points for noting the absolute reduction in blood pressure in each group. We wish, though, that it had provided the weight loss in similar terms of actual pounds or kilograms lost instead of as a percentage of bodyweight.
Similar to the HealthDay piece, the story provides no information about the potential adverse effects of orlistat or a low-carbohydrate diet.
Similar to the HealthDay piece, the story gives a decent overview of the basic study design and outcomes. However more information would have helped us judge how well these diet plans might work in the real world. There is no information on who dropped out of the study or how well the two groups were able to adhere to the diet. In addition, the story states that low-carb dieters were advised to consume 20 g of carbohydrate per day, but it seems very unlikely that participants were able to maintain that level of carbohydrate restriction for almost a year. Overall, this story squeaks by with a satisfactory.
The story does not exaggerate the prevalence or consequences of obesity.
The story’s only quotes come from Dr. Yancy, a researcher affiliated with the study. The story also does not inform readers that Dr. Yancy and another co-author on the study have received funding from the Robert C. Atkins Foundation, which promotes research on low-carb diets.
Given the story’s focus on blood pressure, it should have mentioned how the results of this study might compare to treatment with blood pressure medication.
The story mentioned that orlistat, the weight loss medication tested in the study, is the active ingredient in Xenical and Alli. Unlike the competing piece in HealthDay, however, it did not specify that Xenical is a prescription drug and that Alli is available over the counter. Although this information would have been helpful, providing the trade names for both drugs is probably enough to orient most readers.
The story mentions that both low-carb and low-fat diets are proven to produce weight loss. However, it suggests that we should be surprised that a low-carbohydrate diet could produce such beneficial effects on blood pressure. In fact, this effect was well-documented in another comparison of weight loss diets published in JAMA in 2007.
The story lifts two quotes directly from a news release put out by Duke University. While the story admits that the quotes came from a release, it doesn’t perform the basic task of finding another source to provide an alternate viewpoint. The reader is left wondering if this is journalism or simply an extension of the Duke University press office.