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Fitbit and fertility: Not enough caution or context on 5-woman study

Rating

2 Star

Categories

Your Fitbit Could Help You Get Pregnant — Here’s How

Our Review Summary

The story focuses on how wearable technology — particularly the Fitbit — could help women track their ovulation cycle in order to increase the odds of becoming pregnant. The story does, briefly, address the fact that this will not help women who have other medical obstacles to becoming pregnant, but could have done more to address (even in brief) meaningful issues related to infertility. Similarly, while the story mentions the small sample size of the relevant study, it doesn’t stress that a study involving only five people is statistically not significant.

 

Why This Matters

Choosing to have a child is among the most important and personal decisions that a woman can make, and subsequent difficulties with conceiving can cause significant emotional distress. And these difficulties are not uncommon. According to the National Institutes of Health, “Studies suggest that after 1 year of having unprotected sex, 15% of couples are unable to conceive, and after 2 years, 10% of couples still have not had a successful pregnancy.” Many factors can contribute to fertility problems — in both women and men. Technology may prove to be an effective tool for helping women track their ovulation cycles, but the study discussed here is far too small to make any significant claims — and would still not be a guarantee that it will help many women become pregnant.

Criteria

Does the story adequately discuss the costs of the intervention?

Not Satisfactory

The story quotes a company official calling this a “cheaper” method for those who want to get pregnant. But no numbers are provided to back this up. Fitbits can cost anywhere from 60 to more than 100 dollars. They also require users to have smartphones or tablets to interact with the fitbit — and with the (free) app discussed in the bulk of the article. Other technologies are also discussed in the article, with no mention of related costs.

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

Not Satisfactory

The benefit here would presumably be that women wishing to become pregnant would be more likely to become pregnant more quickly if they were using a Fitbit to track their ovulation cycles. To our knowledge, no study has been done to determine whether that’s the case — and the story doesn’t address this.

What’s more, it’s not clear whether the 5 women studied are part of the 90% of childbearing-age women who would be able to become pregnant without resorting to this device.

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

Satisfactory

It’s not clear what any potential harms might be in this case, though one possibility is that some women may delay taking steps to diagnose possible fertility problems in order to use this technology. Another possible “harm” is the bother and cost of using this device by women who would become pregnant anyway without any problem.

While the story doesn’t address those issues, we give kudos to the story for addressing another possibility: that women may use the technology to track their ovulation cycle in order to avoid becoming pregnant. The story tackles this issue head on.

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

Not Satisfactory

This one is a close call. The story does describe the study as “small” and “preliminary,” but doesn’t explain just how poor the quality of the evidence is.  This is not even a real study, just an uncontrolled observation in a few women who work for the company. The small sample size makes it virtually impossible to draw conclusions about the relevance of the findings to, well, anyone who didn’t participate in the study. The story doesn’t acknowledge that.

Does the story commit disease-mongering?

Not Satisfactory

The story says that getting pregnant can be “tricky,” and it can be. But it doesn’t make it clear that the vast majority of women are able to conceive without this device. In fact, the story doesn’t really give any sense as to how common or uncommon it is to have difficulty conceiving. Without that context, the story may perhaps contribute to women unnecessarily seeking out and purchasing the device for a problem they don’t have. We suppose that there is not much harm in that, but it could cost.

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

Not Satisfactory

There are no independent sources in the story. Only two sources are quoted, and each of them works for a tech company whose products address fertility issues.

Does the story compare the new approach with existing alternatives?

Satisfactory

The story compares the use of the Fitbit to manually tracking one’s cycle (i.e. taking daily temperature and tracking consistency of cervical mucus). It also mentions some other gadgets that track body temperature. We’ll award a Satisfactory on that basis, but there are a host of other options available for women who are seeking help in becoming pregnant. The story doesn’t address any of them.

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

Not Satisfactory

Fitbits are widely available, though the story seems to take it for granted that readers will know this. Similarly, the story refers to the relevant app, called “Clue,” as a “women’s health data startup.” It’s not clear from that description whether the relevant app is already available. (It is.) The story does note the availability of other, related technologies.

Does the story establish the true novelty of the approach?

Satisfactory

The story discusses other technologies that perform related functions.

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

Satisfactory

The story goes beyond any news release we could find related to the work.

Total Score: 4 of 10 Satisfactory

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