The headline promotes an action – “For weight loss, add sleep and relaxation” – that is a leap when based on an observational study that can’t establish cause and effect.
The flaw is compounded when the story doesn’t challenge the researchers’ statement that “people who need to lose weight should consider changes in their sleep patterns and exposure to stress.” It’s premature to jump to therapeutic recommendations based on this kind of work.
Let’s be clear: it’s interesting and important work. But it has limitations. And the conclusions one can draw from it are limited.
If the story had turned to an independent expert to comment, perhaps these issues would have been addressed.
Obesity is an increasingly more common chronic condition and people may be interested in learning new insight that may better enable them to lose weight and keep it off. But you often need more than 300 words to explain what research has shown – and what it can’t.
While reporting that those who slept 6-8 hours per night were more likely to be in the group of people who lost at least 10 pounds in the 26 weeks of study, the story provided no insight about how they actually compared to those who did not have adequate sleep. Did those others lose, but lose less? Did they gain? We weren’t told.
The treatment discussed in this story was obtaining adequate amounts of sleep. Although there were no harms discussed, there were none detailed in the study reported on.
The story provided information about the study including the number of individuals studied, some of their characteristics, and then the absolute values of the outcomes of interest – i.e. the average amount of weight lost in the time period of study.
But a flaw we can’t overlook is letting the researchers get away – unchallenged – with saying that “people who need to lose weight should consider changes in their sleep patterns and exposure to stress.” This study – and this type of observational study – can’t establish cause and effect so it’s premature to jump to therapeutic recommendations based on this kind of work.
The story did not engage in overt disease mongering.
No quotes from independent sources appear in the story. HealthDay did a better job in its story in this regard.
The study actually examined the impact of a counseling intervention on weight loss for individuals who were obese and found that amount of sleep and stress seemed to predict who would and would not be able to lose weight with this intervention. There was no discussion of other approaches to weight loss or examination of the amount of weight loss reported in terms of its clinical or even personal impact on study participants.
One of the things that falls by the wayside in short 300-word stories is context. A longer, competing HealthDay story at least described one other recent study presented at the American Heart Association meeting this month – to convey that this Kaiser study was not the only research underway about sleep and weight.
Not applicable because we can’t be sure of the extent to which the story relied on a news release. One of the reasons we can’t be sure is that no interview quotes appear.