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Managing ‘mummy tummy:’ More study details would’ve tightened informative NPR piece

Rating

3 Star

Categories

NPR

Flattening The 'Mummy Tummy' With 1 Exercise, 10 Minutes A Day

Our Review Summary

A reporter shares her personal experience taking an exercise class aimed at flattening what she calls her “mummy tummy,” the abdominal bulge more formally known as diastasis recti, a separation of abdominal muscles after pregnancy.

The story provides a lot of good details and explanations for the science behind the problem. Many sources were consulted for the story, and costs of the treatment were made clear. However, the story didn’t delve into the lack of research quite enough here–it posited one small, pilot study as fairly strong evidence that this method works. That may be the case, but that’s hard to know until more rigorous research is done, especially randomized research with a control group.

 

Why This Matters

The mixture of the reporter’s own positive impressions of the limited medical research behind this technique could leave readers believing there is substantial proof that it works. A few more cautionary details would have helped the piece on this front.

 

Criteria

Does the story adequately discuss the costs of the intervention?

Satisfactory

The story provides the average cost of a 12-week training in the exercise technique as “around $100 to $300.” It also mentions alternatives like online classes and videos that are much less expensive.

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

Not Satisfactory

The story is primarily a combination of anecdotes about a reporter’s personal experiences in a class, and interviews with a physician and a trainer. The physician, Geeta Sharma, published a study in 2014 about a small pilot experiment in 63 women to determine if a specific exercise method, named “the Dia Method” by its developer, Leah Keller, could reduce diastasis recti.

But the story does not give us numbers from the results from the 2014 study. The trainer is quoted saying the results were “100%” but does not explain this. We’re told that the study compared two groups of women – one group who began training during pregnancy and one group who started after delivery. We are not told how wide the diastasis recti was for the post-delivery group, and how much narrower at the conclusion. This information was available on Keller’s website, though. The story also should have pointed out that without a control group, it’s hard to really assess how beneficial the treatment was, even if the preliminary numbers look “promising.”

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

Not Satisfactory

The story does not mention potential harms for the specific training that Keller provides. She is quoted saying that doing some abdominal exercises can cause harm, including common abdominal exercises like simple crunches and bicycle crunches. But her own special set is not subject to any warnings – even if these are unlikely, it would be better to say so explicitly.

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

Not Satisfactory

For the one study it discusses about the “Dia” method, the story discloses that it was a small, pilot study. But other than that, it doesn’t disclose the limitations of the study–what makes a small, pilot study a weak form of evidence? What kind of research needs to be done to verify the findings? Is any of that research underway? We also wish the story had clearly indicated that the “Dia” method isn’t necessarily any more effective than home-based programs–we just don’t know yet, because of a lack of research.

Also, we did find several exercise-based studies (example) conducted since the one small pilot study, and we’re curious where those findings fit in and change what’s known about this intervention.

Does the story commit disease-mongering?

Satisfactory

The story does not disease monger.

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

Not Satisfactory

The story includes interviews with several independent experts, and we did not detect any undisclosed conflicts of interest with industry.

However, the story leans heavily on the testimony of the trainer whose method is profiled and who stands to benefit from positive publicity. (She markets herself as having received “unparalleled endorsement” from medical research.) The story could have done a better job of explaining how that poses a conflict of interest for the study that was performed. And it could have done more to mitigate this conflict by discussing the details of alternate training methods.

Does the story compare the new approach with existing alternatives?

Satisfactory

The story mentions three different training methods that are “widely” recommended by obstetricians and gynecologists.

Excerpt: “That said, there are a few exercise programs for diastasis recti that many doctors and physical therapists support. These include the Tupler Technique, Keller’s Dia Method and the MuTu System in the U.K.”

However, it’s not clear why someone just couldn’t go to a physical therapist or do free home workouts.

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

Satisfactory

The story included information on where this and other exercise programs are available.

Does the story establish the true novelty of the approach?

Not Applicable

The story referred to research from three years ago, which is hardly new. But since this appears to be a feature/general-interest story (and not specifically about new study findings), we’ll rate this N/A.

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

Satisfactory

The story did not rely on a news release.

Total Score: 5 of 9 Satisfactory

Comments (4)

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Lara Friedman-Shedlov

August 14, 2017 at 9:45 am

Why is this story tagged with the term “weight loss”? This condition and the treatment proposed in the study have nothing to do with weight loss.

Joy Victory

August 14, 2017 at 10:29 am

Hi Lara, I tagged it with “weight loss” as the story includes many statements about “losing inches” around the waistline, and comments like “Two inches off my belly in three weeks? That sounds too good to be true.” That implies that there is weight loss, via the use of “losing” inches. We don’t have a great tag that’s more specific–in terms of stories about interventions where the person appears thinner, but I’m open to suggestions.

Michaeleen Doucleff

August 17, 2017 at 12:47 pm

Thank you for your review. I just wanted to point out that the study you cite as another “exercise-based study” (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26304639) is actually not that. The authors are not looking at how an exercise routine over time changes diastasis recti. They are looking at how one movement changes IRD at a given moment during the exercise. At this point, it’s not clear how their conclusions contribute to the overall question of fixing diastasis with exercise routines since the women in the study won’t doing an exercise routine. They were simply performing a movement in the lab for an ultrasound. But how that relates to performing these exercises regularly on your own and IRD is completely unknown. Might be good to read the studies before you cite them in your critiques.

Joy Victory

August 17, 2017 at 3:29 pm

Thanks for your comment and for clarifying how the conclusions contribute to the overall question of fixing diastasis with an exercise routine. That’s a useful addition for readers of this piece, which is informative and detailed as noted by our reviewers. I think it’s up to debate whether describing the study under discussion as “exercise-based” is appropriate (and there was no need for your baseless cheap shot about reading the study!). The study title is: “The Immediate Effects on Inter-rectus Distance of Abdominal Crunch and Drawing-in Exercises During Pregnancy and the Postpartum Period.” The study clearly involves exercise, although your point about the methods and what conclusions can be drawn are helpful and well taken.