The People’s Medical Journal carries a new, fabulous, science-defying, weight-loss product story: How three cups of green tea a day can help you lose weight – even if you keep eating junk food.
Research shows the tea helps the pounds melt away, even while still eating junk food.
As you might imagine, this claim has excited considerable interest in the comments, with several people wanting to get their hands on this in time to trim down before Christmas.[a]
Six paragraphs into the story, you find out that the research is in rats. And, you have to be willing or able to interpret the text to realise that the research is not available in a peer-reviewed journal but is about to be presented at a conference, and the standards for presenting at a conference or meeting tend to be substantially lower than for peer-reviewed journals.
Spearole Tea…cuts blood pressure and makes it easier for the body to process sugar, a medical conference will hear tomorrow…
Dr Brown, a pharmacologist at Brisbane’s Queensland University, studied the effect of the tea on the health of a group of rats.
However, apart from the single use of the word creatures, that is the entire indication that this research did not take place in humans. In fact, if you were scanning the text, use of words such as waistline might reinforce the notion that we are discussing obese humans (then again, I’m not a rat fancier, I’ve never watched Ben or Willard, so what do I know). Plus, claims like this, that waistlines and blood pressure decrease:
despite the continuing to eat junk food, the Australian Health and Medical Research Congress will hear.
with the implied agency of eating junk food, make me think of people rather than rats. Particularly when it is immediately followed up by several paragraphs of discussion about obese people, the ‘obesity epidemic’, cardiovascular disease etc. I have a problem with a discussion about obesity and junk food that doesn’t stress that the most important considerations are a lifestyle overhaul and an examination of social, environmental or economic contributory factors rather than a “Carry on, as you where, but drink this tea and you will be fine”. It is disappointing that there is no discussion as to whether the tea is said to increase the metabolic rate (plausible with green tea) or if there is basic research that supports the suggestion about anti-inflammatory effects although the mechanism by which this reduces abdominal fat is unclear. The advertising material for the tea stresses its anti-oxidant content, from what are (inevitably) described as “superfoods”, albeit for no readily apparent reason.
What is slightly worrying, is that the Daily Mail item about weight loss includes this:
Dr Brown said that experiments showed ibuprofen also help shed weight, however their side-effects mean they are unlikely to ever be recommended for such a purpose.
It is thought that both the drugs and the tea work by stopping the fat cells from releasing inflammatory chemicals that attract more fat causing them to grow in size.
I have no idea whether these experiments with ibuprofen were conducted in rats, humans or any other species. I do know that NSAIDs are neither sweeties nor a cup of tea that tastes like chewing-gum; use of NSAIDs may be associated with gastric erosion and some potentially serious side-effects. This is not an area where self-experimentation is harmless. At the risk of showing my susceptibility to W. Phillips Davison’s third person effect,[b] I have some concerns about whether it is sensible to make such a throw-away comment and whether it was sensible or appropriate for the journalist to make this comment in such a context-free way. Even in the comments, there are misgivings about the wisdom of mentioning this use for ibuprofen.
An online search revealed no clues to where this tea could be purchased. It would be great to find out where in time for the festive season. Perhaps it is not too wise to mention the use of anti-inflammatory drugs for reversing weight gain in an article such as this as some people would not care about damaging their health in order to make extra pounds melt away. [queenofsheba, Cairo, Egypt, 19/11/2008 5:04]
The journalist might have found this aspect of ibuprofen and the putative role of inflammation in obesity to be so interesting that s/he couldn’t resist including it. Perhaps there were some caveats that the sub-editors removed. It’s difficult to tell, but, as it reads, it is irresponsible if it encourages people to take NSAIDs when there is no clinical indication for them. And people can be very desperate when it comes to weight-loss.
Several people were (surprisingly) unable to locate stockists for this tea. If they had, a very small number of people might consider it cost effective to self-experiment with NSAIDs. The tea is £15.15 for a 150g packet (not including shipping) or, roughly £100 per kilo. Apparently, (without including the costs of post and packaging), each cup of tea will cost 15p and for 3 a day, that is 45p (and that is true only if people manage to make 100 cups of tea from one packet).
Self-experimentation is not only inappropriate in such contexts, it could have very dangerous side-effects. Does the Daily Mail have any responsibility to warn its readers about this when weight-loss (and concomitant self-image) is a subject that causes a good deal of anxiety and heart-ache, or should one repose more confidence in the commonsense of most readers?
[a] Several people in the comments ask where they can buy this tea and joke about wanting to buy it before Christmas.
One possible explanation for the fact that people on both sides of an issue can see the media as biased against their own point of view is that each observer assumes a disproportionate effect will be achieved by arguments or facts supporting the ‘wrong’ side of the issue. Others (the third persons), the observer reasons, will be unduly impressed by these facts or argument; they do not have the information that enables me to form a correct opinion. It is probable that, from the point of view of the partisans, balanced media presentation would require a sharp tilt toward the ‘correct’ side of the issue. This would compensate for the intellectual frailty of third persons and would, according to the partisan, ensure that the media achieved a truly balanced presentation. But, if the third-person effect hypothesis is correct, why are not the facts and arguments on the ‘correct’ sides as well as the ‘wrong’ side seen as having a disproportionate effect on others?