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An app a day keeps pregnancy away? BuzzFeed’s informative look at Natural Cycles app gets a gold star


5 Star


This App Says It’s As Good As The Pill At Preventing Pregnancy, But Experts Want More Evidence

Our Review Summary

BuzzFeed’s take on an app to aid in birth control ends up being a very informative piece on the plusses and minuses of a variety of birth control methods. With the context provided, readers learn a bit about a woman’s monthly cycle and how so-called natural family planning works. This method is an alternative to such contraceptive stalwarts as the pill and the IUD, and serves a population that may have reason to avoid more medical interventions requiring doctor’s visits.

We especially appreciated that the writer noted that users must be diligent to get the best results: “And if you’re considering ditching the Pill because remembering to take it each day is too much effort, you probably won’t like having to remember to take your temperature every morning.”

The story is balanced, provides an excellent summary of the research on the app’s effectiveness for preventing pregnancy, and makes clear the limits of the evidence.


Why This Matters

Women have strong preferences about birth control methods and need a range of choices. Natural family planning (sometimes known as the rhythm method) has been around for years, but is not highly regarded because it is relatively ineffective compared to medical approaches such as the pill or IUD. A technology that potentially improves the effectiveness of this method is news.


Does the story adequately discuss the costs of the intervention?

Not Satisfactory

The story states that the app requires a monthly or yearly subscription, which implies it’s not free. But there is no mention of what the subscription costs, which was easily found by visiting the Natural Cycle website (linked in the article). It’s $5.80 per month or $69.90 per year. (For comparison’s sake, the cost for one month of the pill can cost up to $50 although it’s often covered by many health insurance companies.)

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


The story cites a study that the app, when used precisely as directed–or so-called perfect use–has a failure rate such that 0.5 in 100 women will get pregnant over a year of use. People aren’t perfect, so with so-called typical use, 7 people will get pregnant out of 100 users over a year. The pill by comparison, results in 0.3 out of 100 people with perfect use, and 9 out of 100 with typical use.

In addition, the writer makes clear that the method requires abstaining from sex or using other protection for as many as 10 day per cycle, although that interval may decrease with longer use.

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


The biggest harm to using this contraceptive method is getting pregnant. The article reminds readers that another risk to using this method of birth control is it does not protect against sexually transmitted diseases, as condoms do. Otherwise, there is only the inconvenience of daily logging of one’s temperature and entering menstrual cycle data.

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


This take on the natural family method via an app form of contraception was well articulated, including the potential bias of relying on a study conducted by the company that makes the app. A second drawback was the study’s design, which the writer appropriately identifies as “retrospective,” and goes on to cite a general critique of this design, quoting info from the UK’s National Health System. The story also includes a quote from an outside expert on the need for independent evaluation of the product.

Does the story commit disease-mongering?


No disease mongering was evident in the article. It’s quite clear that this is a device for use by women who do not want to get pregnant and while pregnancy is not a disease, an unwanted pregnancy is certainly a burden.

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


In addition to talking to the founder of the company that produces the app, the story includes two independent experts who comment on the app and on aspects of sexual biology.

Does the story compare the new approach with existing alternatives?


The article makes reference to other forms of birth control and their advantages and disadvantages with relationship to the Natural Cycles app.  This information helps the reader put the new information into greater context.

The writer also mentioned other apps that track a woman’s monthly cycle, based on user data for when a period begins and ends.

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


The story names the company that produces the app and links to the company’s website. It also mentioned the regulatory status of the device in Sweden where the company is based.

Does the story establish the true novelty of the approach?


The story differentiates this app from other menstrual cycle trackers for fertility information by pointing out the temperature taking aspect of the device. Indeed, subscribers are supplied with a sensitive thermometer that provides body temperature reading to two decimal places.

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


This article did not rely on a news release.

Total Score: 9 of 10 Satisfactory


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