Body Wrap University of Westminster Fail

June 15, 2009 at 3:46 pm (Bad Science, Media, Universities) (, , , )

Here is what was (when I began drafting this post) a recent Daily Fail story on a body wrap that, apparently, “works in 100 per cent of cases” – and this isn’t just opinion. Oh no. When it comes to body wraps, “A new study by scientists at the University of Westminster has shown that one in particular, the Universal Contour Wrap, really does work”.

The Fail, ahem, failed to provide any further clues as to the identity of this study. Names of authors? Nope. Name of the journal the study was published in? Nope. My only clue was “University of Westminster”. I tried contacting them.

Email to the University of Westminster 18th May:

I am trying to track down the source for a claim in the Daily Mail that: “A new study by scientists at the University of Westminster has shown that one [body wrap] in particular, the Universal Contour Wrap, really does work.” I have been unable to find out the names of the authors – or the publication that this study appeared in – and I wondered if you could help at all?

Initial response 18th May:

I am trying to contact some of my colleagues here at the University for more information. In order that we may best handle your query, could you please let me know more of your interest? If this is a press enquiry, then it may be best handled by our press office, if you are a researcher in this field, it may be best handled within the School, or the Research Office.

Sorry for the delay, I will get back to you once I have more information.

My next email 18th May:

Thank you for getting back to me. It’s really just for my own personal curiosity. I often read about “research by scientists” in various newspapers and am constantly frustrated by their failure to cite the paper, name the lead author, name the journal the research is published in – or give any clue whatsoever as to the provenance of the research their article is based on. I’m really just after a proper citation or a link to an abstract of the paper so I can see what the scientists actually found rather than what the journalist thinks the scientists found. For all I know, the research could be very interesting (most research is, in my opinion) but without more info about the study I’ll never know.

My next email, while I was awaiting a response from the University of Westminster, is reproduced below:

Forgot to say – if the Press Office could forward a copy of the press release they sent out for this research into body wraps I’d be very interested in seeing that too.

I have had one further response from the University of Westminster. I am writing this particular section of this draft blog post on the 8th June 2009. Seven days ago, I was told that my email had been forwarded to the School of Bioscience where the study was completed. I’ve yet to hear from the School of Bioscience, though. I’m not sure what to make of this. That the School of Bioscience can’t find their own paper? That they can’t even send me a citation to it? That they’re too busy/lazy to respond to queries from members of the public? Or maybe, just maybe, there isn’t a citation to send yet. Perhaps the Daily Mail somehow [For example: via a press release from the University Press Office, perhaps? I'm just guessing at possibilities here.] got hold of information relating to an unpublished study and printed the preliminary findings of unpublished research yet to be peer-reviwed in their Femail section?

————————————————————————————————-

Anyway, since I’ve now waited three four weeks for some news of this mythical “research” I thought I’d share the Mail’s take on this body wrap with you:

When it comes to body wraps — those mummifying treatments involving bandages and mud that claim to make you instantly, effortlessly, thinner — I’ve always been the biggest sceptic around.

Uh-huh. Sounds good so far – Leah Hardy, the author of this piece, is clearly sceptical about body wraps. Boy is she going to be hard to impress…

I’ve assumed any benefits would just be temporary fluid loss — you’d be back to normal dimensions after the next glass of water. I could never understand why celebrities such as Zoe Ball, Tamzin Outhwaite and Rachel Stevens swore by them.

That’s it sister – you tell them. Testify, my fellow sceptic, testify!

But it seems I was completely wrong. A new study by scientists at the University of Westminster has shown that one in particular, the Universal Contour Wrap, really does work.

Not only that, it works in 100 per cent of cases, and the results last for at least a month.

Um, that was rather a quick u-turn wasn’t it? What happened to the scepticism? Where did it go? Apparently, all it takes is one word from some unnamed scientists and your opinion is completely reversed. Why didn’t this happen to Mail journalists when scientists told you that Wakefield’s research was flawed and there was no good evidence of a link between MMR vaccination and autism?

What else do we learn?

So, could it work for me? Arriving at therapist Angela Taffinder’s discreet London salon, I’m immediately invited to strip off completely and given a teeny paper thong and plastic shower cap to wear.

Ah, you had a go yourself did you?

The mirror reveals thinner thighs — even more noticeable is that they feel much firmer and more toned.

My skin feels tighter and smoother. Angela is thrilled to tell me I’ve lost a total of 15 inches all over, including (hooray!) more than an inch off each thigh, another inch off my bottom and just over an inch off my tummy.

Fantastic. Glad it worked so well for you. Not sure why you needed to test it for yourself, given that those scientists had already proved that this body wrap works in 100% of cases. I can only hope you didn’t pay the £64 yourself. After all, you were writing this article primarily to inform the public of this marvellous treatment rather than in order to try out this body wrap yourself.

My thoughts: I certainly wouldn’t pay £64 for a body wrap. No matter how “brilliant and confidence-boosting” this “pre-beach treatment” was. Even if I was really, really “worried about baring less-than-taut flesh”.

Weirdly, the bottom of the article seems to advertise not only the treatment centre that Leah went to, but also an 0845 number you could ring for details of other salons around the country offering the Universal Contour Wrap. Funny, that.

I’ve left the following comment on the Mail’s website, let’s see if it gets through:

I have a couple of questions: Why are you advertising body wraps? Which journal published this research that your article refers to? Who paid for this treatment at therapist Angela Taffinder’s discreet London salon?

Well, it’s a week later and my comment is yet to appear…

More

PDF of Mail’s article saved on 8th June: Body Wrap article after commenting; PDF of current article as showing on 15th June: body wrap 15th june.

If I ever hear from the University of Westminster or the Mail ever decides to publish my comment or correspond with me regarding the questions I posed, I’ll let you know… Don’t hold your breath, though.

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8 Comments

  1. AndyD said,

    “Angela is thrilled to tell me I’ve lost a total of 15 inches all over,…”

    What? She didn’t measure herself but relied on the word of the person selling the treatment? That’s classic scepticism right there that is.

  2. jdc325 said,

    Yep – I think that this may be a case of bogus* scepticism. “Well, I wouldn’t normally believe these dubious claims but this one is true…”

    *Please note the Eady Disclaimer: deliberate deception not implied.

  3. Ignoreland: A Refusal To Engage « jdc325's Weblog said,

    [...] on the Universal Contour Wrap that was covered so enthusiastically by the Daily Mail (as I wrote here). I first emailed them on the 18th May to ask if they could help with details of the research [...]

  4. University of Westminster: FOIA Request « jdc325's Weblog said,

    [...] FOIA Request Here are the details of my Freedom of Information request following on from my recent posts about the University’s research into detox body wraps: Dear Sir or [...]

  5. Fritz said,

    How about this document regarding the university test Universal Contour Wrap then:

    http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/14113/response/39075/attach/html/3/FinalReportWrap2%20FOIA%20Dislosure.pdf.html

    It looks legit. Maybe it will help you in your search for the truth?

  6. jdc325 said,

    Thanks for commenting Fritz. The FOIA release of that document was in response to a request I’d made. I’ve blogged about their original response here: link.

    From the document you link to:
    “Data regarding maintenance of ‘inch loss’ at one month, is equivocal in terms of the effects of the wrap. However, an average weight loss and accompanying inch loss was evident at this interval and could be due to the intervention as a whole, which undoubtedly raises awareness of body image, diet and lifestyle in a positive way.”
    It seems to me that the statement in the Mail article regarding the positive results of the wrap treatment lasting for a month are misleading – the weight loss and inch loss at one month seem to be due to changes in lifestyle and diet if I understand the above quote correctly. I think what they’re saying is essentially that the wrap makes you look slimmer and this encourages you to maintain the look by eating a healthier diet and/or exercising.

  7. Beware The Bias Blind Spot « Stuff And Nonsense said,

    [...] to use bogus skepticism. The Daily Mail provided a wonderful example in a puff piece for the Universal Countour Wrap, a ‘detox body wrap’. The author of the piece was gushing about the merits of this body [...]

  8. sachabloke said,

    My girlfriend just paid £150 of our money for 3 treatments. I am obviously cynical.

    Could the “inch loss” be a product of merely lying down for 1hr- through decompression of the spine and lengthening of the body, one might surmise that one would temporarily be thinner?

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