A really interesting study was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association on September 20th 2016. It was called “Effect of Wearable Technology Combined With a Lifestyle Intervention on Long-term Weight Loss”.
The study was badly reported in the media. Med Page Today was the most accurate with “Fitness Trackers Flop for Long-Term Weight Loss”. The Telegraph newspaper doesn’t know the difference between being fatter and achieving less weight loss: “Fitness trackers offer no weight-loss benefit and can make users fatter, says study”. The BBC also got it wrong with “No proof' fitness trackers promote weight loss”. There was evidence for weight loss with a fitness tracker at 6, 12, 18 and 24 months – just a very UNimpressive amount.
The study did have a really striking finding, but it had nothing to do with ‘Fitbit’ type technology......
I’m quite partial to a conspiracy theory and there were a couple emanating from America last week – one far more plausible than the other. I found the “Hillary Clinton is dead and a body double is covering while we work out what to do”, a bit farfetched, but the sugar conspiracy that was documented in the Journal of the American Medical Association was completely believable...
Let’s remind ourselves of how the whole dietary guidelines, fat vs. sugar debate started: it was all about heart disease. In the US, in the 1950s, there was a sense that American middle aged men particularly were ‘dropping like flies’. This was not true, but numbers can be presented in misleading ways (lies, damned lies and statistics and all that).
On Friday 9th September 2016, an article was published in The Lancet with a quite extraordinary editorial. The full article can be seen here and the editorial is here. The editorial has been brilliantly dissected by Dr Malcolm Kendrick here, so I won’t cover that in this note.
The newspaper headlines were glowing “Statins prevent 80,000 heart attacks and strokes a year in UK, study finds“ and “A third of adults should take statins, new research suggests”. Taking out a full page advert, in every UK newspaper, could not have been more favourable.
The group behind the study is the Cholesterol Treatment Trialists (CTT), which is co-ordinated by the Clinical Trial Service Unit (CTSU). The first thing that you need to know about the CTSU is that the spat that the CTSU leader, Rory Collins, kicked off with the BMJ in 2014 led to him having to declare the previously well-hidden pharmaceutical funding enjoyed by the CTSU. This added up to £268m – give or take a few hundred thousand – and the sum is no doubt higher two years on.
A more discerning headline, therefore, could have been “Team paid c. £300m by statin makers finds statins are miracle drugs with miraculously negligible side-effects.”