HealthDay breaks down the evidence in a clear, concise way for readers, emphasizing high in the story that there still is not much evidence that any form of therapy works to quell colic. We wish it had spent a little more time quantifying the benefits that were found in this review for different alternative therapies, and we would have liked to have seen some cost information. All in all, though, this is exactly the approach more stories should take instead of presenting parents with an ever changing set of options for treating childhood maladies, none of which have much support in the scientific literature.
Colic is frightening for parents and the cause of much angst. Stories that discuss treatment options need to make plain the amount of evidence supporting these options and avoid championing a therapy just for the sake of having something “new” to attract readers. Readers fortunate enough to see the HealthDay story on this study of colic treatments would be fairly well served, if not heartened, by this study’s results. Not all problems have a simple cure, and HealthDay was honest enough to let readers know that.
The story did not discuss costs. Some of the products described could end up being quite costly, and chiropractic treatment would definitely be an expensive option. At a minimum, we would have liked to have seen some description of the range of costs, from the minimal cost of a few cents a day using a sugar-water mixture to the large cost of chiropractic treatment.
The story is about a review of several studies, and we don’t expect the benefits to be quantified for each study reviewed. Instead, the story used vague phrases such as “found improvement.” In on area, the story provides numbers, saying, “A study of probiotics, which are reputed to help digestion, found that 95 percent of infants given L. reuteria probiotics seemed to reduce their average crying time compared to 7 percent of babies given simethicone, which is marketed to relieve gas under the brand names Mylicon and PediaCare Infants’ Gas Relief.” But even here, we would have liked to have seen some absolute numbers. We appreciate that it is difficult to tease these numbers out of the review, but, at a minimum, the small study size (90 children) would have been good context for readers.
The story does not quantify the potential harms, but it makes it clear that the remedies most often used by parents have no significant side effects. It says, “But because fennel extract, certain herbal teas and sugar water are generally safe, and because the research does suggest babies may benefit, pediatricians said they would feel comfortable recommending them to parents. ‘It’s reasonable for parents to consider those kinds of interventions for which there is some suggestion of benefit but no known risks,’ said Dr. Andrew Adesman, chief of developmental and behavioral pediatrics at Steven and Alexandra Cohen Children’s Medical Center of New York.”
The story does a great job packing in a lot of information about the evidence in a tightly written story. For example, it starts off by saying, “In the review, the study authors searched various databases of medical research and chose 15 randomized clinical trials involving alternative treatments for colic. The studies were published between 1991 and 2008, came from 10 different countries and included a total of 944 children.” Then it says, “Several studies looked at spinal manipulation by a chiropractor. In three of those studies, parents reported their children cried significantly less afterwards. But those studies were small and flawed, so no conclusions can be made about the technique, according to the new review.”
The story does not engage in disease-mongering and, in fact, goes further by making it clear that colic is transitional, even if it feels like it will never end. “In the United States, between 5 and 19 percent of infants are estimated to have colic, according to background information in the article. Because pediatricians can’t offer parents much help with it — for the most part, babies grow out of colic in time — desperate parents often turn to alternative or complementary treatments, according to the study.”
The story tapped two independent experts: Dr. Andrew Adesman, chief, developmental and behavioral pediatrics at the Steven and Alexandra Cohen Children’s Medical Center of New York and Dr. Ari Brown, an Austin pediatrician and co-author of Baby 411. Both provided good context and words of caution for concerned parents.
This story compared all of the different therapies under review, unlike the MSNBC site’s “Today Moms” story, which narrowly focused on herbal tea. For example, the story quotes the paper saying, ‘This is pertinent given that simethicone is considered the best available and most commonly prescribed treatment for colic, although it previously has been shown to be no more effective than the placebo,’ according to the authors.”
All of the alternative therapies discussed are widely available, but we think the story could have made this more explicit. For example, if you are a mom in rural Montana, are you expected to know how widespread is the availability (and where) of fennel extract, probiotics, etc.? Even the line about “simethicone is considered the best available” doesn’t tell you what that means. She may have no idea whether you can find these things in the drug store, in the grocery store, in a health food store or all of the above.
The story shows that these treatments are not novel and, for the most part, not very effective. The MSNBC site’s “Today Moms” story, by contrast, made it sound as if herbal tea should be the first and best option for chlidren with colic, a statement not supported by the evidence.
The story goes well beyond any news release.