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Weight loss wonder


3 Star

Weight loss wonder

Our Review Summary

This is a brief, balanced broadcast about a heavily marketed diet drug and the idiosyncratic enthusiasm of its users, who either do not understand the drug’s uncomfortable side effects or, in their zeal to lose weight, are willing to sacrifice comfort for a slimmer waistline. The story covers the basics reasonably well, and includes strong sources representing a variety of views. Viewers will come away better informed about the drug’s common side effect, “extreme” gastrointestinal distress. But they won’t know enough about the size of the drug’s potential benefits to weigh the trade-off. According to the drug’s manufacturer, Alli can increase by 50% the amount of weight a person might lose through dietary changes and exercise alone. How many pounds is that? If the history of weight loss studies is any indication, the drug might simply nibble at the margins. 


Does the story adequately discuss the costs of the intervention?

Not Satisfactory

The story implies that the drug may be expensive, but doesn’t actually tell the viewer what it costs.

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

Not Satisfactory

According to the drug’s manufacturer, Alli can increase by 50% the amount of weight a person might lose through the combination of a good diet and exercise. How many pounds is that? The history of weight loss studies suggests it might not be much. The number is key, since gastrointestinal distress may be worth the trouble for a heap of pounds, but not if the drug simply nibbles at the margins.

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


The story mentions arguably the most notable and inconvenient side effect of the diet drug Alli—gastrointestinal distress—and gives it the prominence it warrants.

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

Not Satisfactory

The broadcast’s summary of the evidence is a paraphrase of a manufacturing claim: “The manufacturer says Alli can help people who are already dieting and exercising lose up to fifty percent more weight if taken in combination with a proper diet.” What does the evidence say, and what form does the evidence take? We don’t know.

Does the story commit disease-mongering?


This story cites CDC statistics stating that two-thirds of Americans are overweight. Despite the source, the broadcast avoids discussing “overweight” as an epidemic or disease.

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


The story uses many sources representing a variety of views.

Does the story compare the new approach with existing alternatives?

Not Satisfactory

The new medication is not compared or contrasted in any detail to existing methods for weight loss, including diet, exercise, surgery, or other medications.

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


The broadcast explains that the new diet drug Alli is available over the counter.

Does the story establish the true novelty of the approach?


The broadcast leads with the drug’s novelty. It is the first weight loss drug sold over-the-counter, and people are snatching it off drugstore shelves “today.”

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


No obvious use of text from a press release.

Total Score: 6 of 10 Satisfactory


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