This story described a small study of whether a regime that restricts eating to an eight-hour daily window help people reduce their risk factors for developing metabolic diseases such as heart disease and diabetes. The story’s main strength is that it provided caveats early and often about the small size and short duration of the study and the need for more rigorous trials.
However, it didn’t give enough information to help readers understand whether weight loss and blood pressure improvements were sufficient to reduce disease risk. The headline also oversells the findings by stating that the fasting plan is “linked to weight loss and health benefits.” In fact, the study found most metabolic risk factors unchanged.
The story also would have been stronger had it used people-first language to help reduce stigma around obesity.
There’s a lot of excitement around Intermittent fasting as a strategy to lose weight and reduce risk factors for metabolic diseases like heart disease and type 2 diabetes. The so-called 16:8 fasting diet is just the latest flavor.
Early-phase studies like this one provide just a clue of how well they work. News reporting needs to refrain from hyperbole and focus on the many caveats around these trials. This one did a little bit, but not enough.
There’s no cost associated with following this diet.
The story said people on the diet “consumed around 350 fewer calories, resulting in a loss of 3 percent body weight, and their blood pressure dropped by around 7mm Hg. However, their fat mass, insulin resistance and cholesterol levels were similar to the control group’s.”
That’s a start. The story would have been more informative if it gave actual weights and blood pressure readings along with information on how big the changes need to be to lower a person’s metabolic disease risk, which is the real goal.
For example, according to the study, evidence suggests at least 5% weight loss is required to improve cholesterol and glucose regulation.
The story incorrectly reported that the results “mirror those” of other intermittent fasting diets. In fact, the researchers said compared with other forms of intermittent fasting, time-restricted feeding “appears to produce less weight loss.”
Fasting for brief periods is pretty safe, although the story could have mentioned risks of dehydration, sleep problems, or headaches that might come from getting too hungry.
The story did a good job of explaining the need for larger and longer-term studies and the difficulty in conducting diet studies generally. It could have been more direct in explaining that there wasn’t a real control group.
Also, it’s unknown whether people could sustain these weight-loss results for a year or longer, especially outside the monitoring of a clinical trial. And these were healthy volunteers, so it’s unknown whether time-restricted eating could help those who have risk factors for metabolic disease.
Finally, the story didn’t mention that six people reportedly dropped out of the trial, so only 17 completed it.
No disease-mongering here.
The story included quotes from a previous story from an independent expert, who spoke on the general topic of fasting diets. More comments from independent sources about this particular study would have strengthened the story.
The story should have noted that two of the authors have recently written books about fasting and weight loss.
The story mentions other diets such as alternate-day fasting.
This is an intervention tied to eating schedules, not a product. There’s no question of availability.
The story reported that the findings “shed light on what one type of time-restricted eating does to the body.”
According to the study authors, the trial is the first to examine whether time-restricted eating is effective for weight loss and reducing the risk of metabolic disease risk in people with obesity.
The story drew exclusively from a news release. It only added some previously reported comments from an independent source.