Better breathing for better health is the simple premise of this story. Too simple. Despite quoting multiple sources, the story is a one-sided list of health claims that are not supported by consistent evidence. We applaud the price tags for devices and classes included in the story. And while the number of sources would normally win praise, the story should have included comments from researchers who are critical of the poor quality and inconsistent results of studies in this area.
Even a glance at the comments left by readers online demonstrates some of the skepticism we wish this story had brought to bear. An amusing example: “Rather than shelling out $150 for the opportunity to wear a Spire device on your belt–(or bra as the website suggests!)–take a deep breath, relax, and put your credit card away. –There…don’t you feel better already?!”
When a news story includes claims that “research shows” health benefits, those claims should be tested. In this case, the story failed to note the many studies casting doubt on the cheery conclusions of the experts quoted.
The story states early on that the cost of Spire is $150. The story also mentions the costs of the breathing classes offered by Dr. Belisa Vranich. Readers who are interested in taking the classes or purchasing Spire know what to expect in terms of cost.
There is considerable debate about the health effects of breathing exercises or biofeedback devices that encourage slower breathing rates. The story failed to note that review articles have found that many studies on this topic are of poor quality and have produced inconsistent results. The story should have noted the lack of evidence that breathing exercises might benefit generally healthy people.
In addition, the story could have more clearly pointed out that most of the examples presented addressed only intermediate effects, such vagus nerve activity, not overall health or longevity. For example, the referenced study on a few students showed only that breathing rates slowed, not that there were any health benefits from classes or devices like the Spire.
The story mentions that deep breathing may cause people with asthma or panic disorders to hyperventilate and that a different breathing pattern is often recommended for these patients. The story could have mentioned exercise or psychological techniques for reducing stress and improving health, many of which are supported by stronger evidence.
As mentioned above, the story mischaracterizes the evidence about breathing exercises by presenting claims of health benefits without noting widespread criticism of the poor quality and inconsistent results of research on the topic. The only specific studies mentioned in this story looked only at breathing rates. They did not measure any actual health effects. Readers of this story should have been told that systematic reviews of studies on breathing exercises have failed to show consistent benefits for healthy people.
This story labels common breathing patterns as “dysfunctional” and suggests they represent a condition in need of treatment. “Screen apnea” is not a generally recognized condition. While sitting for long periods (in front of a computer screen or TV or steering wheel, etc.) is associated with health risks, the role of breathing patterns is not clearly understood. The story should not have presented claims of a link between computer use, breathing patterns, and health effects without noting the lack of evidence to support such claims. Indeed, almost all of the scientific publications supporting the premise of the Spire device (polyvagal theory) have been authored by a single researcher who is an advisor to the company.
While this story does identify which of the quoted experts stand to make money from products or classes, it should have let readers hear from more than just the boosters of breathing exercises. A quick look at the medical literature produces a long list of reviews that note the poor quality and inconsistent results of research on this topic. The story could have included comments from researchers on the gap between the rosy claims of promoters and what the available evidence actually shows.
To its credit, the story does point out that people can take classes as well as use a device that monitors breathing to change their breathing habits. However, since the story is about ways to reduce stress and improve health, we think it had an obligation to discuss other evidence-based approaches for reaching this goal, including regular physical activity, certain types of psychotherapy, or even self-taught breathing exercises that don’t require buying a device or paying for a class. And certainly the makers of the many competitors to the Spire device may well wonder why the article did not mention that other such devices are on the market.
The story includes a link to the Spire web site. It’s clear that the device can be purchased.
The story does not establish novelty. As mentioned above, there are other devices on the market that provide feedback on breathing patterns. There is nothing in this story about whether the Spire device does anything new or different.
The story includes quotes from a variety of experts. It seems clear it did not rely on a news release.