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Study: Weight-loss combo pill shows promise

Rating

4 Star

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Study: Weight-loss combo pill shows promise

Our Review Summary

Perhaps if we had not compared the CNN.com story with the LA Times piece, our comments might be more glowing.  It covered a lot of the bases – addressing most of our criteria.

But the Times story was framed completely differently, delivering healthy skepticism where it appears to be warranted.

 

Why This Matters

This story delivered a key summary line from an independent expert:  “”This might be a good tool in the short term to get someone motivated, and that’s great. But unless it’s paired with aggressive lifestyle changes, it may not be great in the long term.”

Criteria

Does the story adequately discuss the costs of the intervention?

Not Applicable

Not applicable.  The story didn’t discuss cost, but the story was clear that is a drug that has been slowed in its path to marketing approval so that is understandable.

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

Satisfactory

The story adequately reported on the potential benefits.  It just didn’t provide the context we applauded in the LA Times story. But it did state:

  • The drugs,  phentermine and Topamax, in combination with lifestyle and weight-loss counseling were associated with a 18-22 pound weight loss in trial participants, compared with a three-pound weight loss in patients who received counseling alone.

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

Satisfactory

This story – while not quantifying harms – did a better job in discussing harms than the LA Times story, so we’ll give it a satisfactory score. It reported:

  • According to the report, there were specific concerns about each drug’s safety individually; specifically Topamax, which is reported to cause some psychiatric and cognitive side effects and may cause clef palate birth defects if taken while pregnant. According to the manufacturer’s study, the two drugs, when taken together, and at controlled-release doses, were very safe. Participants in the trial reported minor side effects such as dry mouth and constipation, however at higher doses, some participants did complain about some psychiatric side effects. Among the 2,487 study participants, nine became pregnant, and none of their children were born with cleft palates, the report said.

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

Not Satisfactory

You have to read the LA Times’ story in order to see how much better a job it did than this CNN.com story in evaluating the evidence.  The Times stated:

  • “this study is not so new – and its findings may be less weighty than might be concluded with its publication in this respected medical journal.”

By comparison, CNN.com called it “significant promise” and “a new report.”  We think the Times’ analysis was far more helpful for readers.

Does the story commit disease-mongering?

Satisfactory

No disease mongering in the story.

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

Satisfactory

The story turned to “Dr. Melina Jampolis,  CNNHealth’s physician nutrition expert, who is not connected with the study.”  We wish the story had given us some background on her expertise.

It also stated that “The study was funded by the pharmaceutical company Vivus.”

Does the story compare the new approach with existing alternatives?

Satisfactory

Adequate.  The story stated:

  • “The drugs,  phentermine and Topamax, in combination with lifestyle and weight-loss counseling were associated with a 18-22 pound weight loss in trial participants, compared with a three-pound weight loss in patients who received counseling alone. …By comparison, the only approved long-term prescription weight loss medication available on the market today, Xenical, is associated with a seven-pound weight loss when combined with diet and exercise.”
  • It also quoted its nutrition expert saying “This might be a good tool in the short term to get someone motivated, and that’s great,” she said. “But unless it’s paired with aggressive lifestyle changes, it may not be great in the long term.”

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

Satisfactory

The story stated that Qnexa was not approved: “The Food and Drug Administration denied the request, asking for more safety data from the company before moving forward.”

Does the story establish the true novelty of the approach?

Not Satisfactory

Again, in comparison with the LA Times’ reporting, we must give the CNN.com story an unsatisfactory score because of how it treated as “new” something that really wasn’t.

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

Satisfactory

The story did not rely solely on a news release.

Total Score: 7 of 9 Satisfactory

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