University of Westminster: FOIA Response

July 31, 2009 at 7:58 pm (Bad Science, Media, Universities) (, , , , )

Well, it’s the twentieth working day since my FOIA request to the University of Westminster and I have finally received some answers to a few of the questions I posed. I originally contacted the University of Westminster on the 18th May, so I am disappointed that it has taken so long (and a Freedom of Information Act request) in order for them to begin to engage with me.

Here is my request:

I would like to know if this study has been published in a journal
(and, if so, which journal).

I would also like to know how the Daily Mail got hold of the
research in order to write an article about it. Was there any
contact between the university and the newspaper?

I would also be interested in any further details that you are able to provide me with (e.g. study sponsor; technical details –
methods, results).

If the School of Biosciences has any comment on the following quote from the Daily Mail article* then I would be delighted to hear it:
“The idea behind this wrap is that the combination of detoxifying** mineral-rich clay and specialist body-wrapping techniques will compress fatty tissue, leaving you tighter and more toned. The clay  solution is absorbed by the skin, drawing out toxins that are  expelled through the pores.”

Here is the response:

The University of Westminster can confirm that the study you refer to has not been published to date. A report was created under a commercial agreement with a commercial sponsor, Totally UK Limited. [jdc: Totally UK are the UK distributor for Universal Contour Wraps. The 0845 number provided in the Daily Mail’s article* is for trade enquiries to Totally UK Limited.]

The University of Westminster believes there may have been some contact between a researcher and a journalist at a conference.

The University of Westminster is currently in discussion with Totally UK Limited in relation to disclosing further details of the report to you under the Freedom of Information Act 2000. We apologise that these discussions will take a little more time to resolve in relation to the consideration and potential application of applicable FOIA exemptions.
We hope to conclude these discussions in the near future and respond fully to your request.

The University of Westminster has no comment to make on the mechanism of any weight loss. We were commissioned to investigate whether inch loss occurred not any mechanism by which it might occur.

I will be in contact with you again soon and apologise again for the delay in responding fully to your request.

The Daily Mail printed an article on body wraps that stated that “A new study by scientists at the University of Westminster has shown that one in particular, the Universal Contour Wrap, really does work.” There was no indication whether this research had been published in a reputable journal or not; no indication of who had funded the study; no detail as to the nature of the study (how many participants were there? was there a control group?). In fact, the study trumpeted by the Mail is an unpublished report commissioned by the distributor of the product in question. This report was used to promote a body wrap in an advertorial that provided contact details for the commercial organisations involved (the salon used by the journalist and the distributor of the treatment) without noting any relationship between one of the commercial organisations and the University (sponsorship). The advertorial also made the remarkable claim that the idea behind the wrap was a “combination of detoxifying mineral-rich clay and specialist body-wrapping techniques”.**


Original post on Westminster, the Daily Mail*, and body wraps; Ignoreland – a post I wrote about refusals to engage.

*The Daily Mail’s article uncritically promoted the benefits of Body Wraps and enthused over the 100% success rate of the body wrap. See my original post for details and a link to the article in question.

**Ah, detox. I remember Andrew Wadge writing a blog post on the FSA website that pointed out that “There’s a lot of nonsense talked about ‘detoxing’ and most people seem to forget that we are born with a built-in detox mechanism. It’s called the liver.” In response, Dr Robert Verkerk left a comment criticising Wadge’s blog post, without mentioning that he worked as Ultralife’s Scientific Director. See this comment for more on Drs Robert Verkerk and Damien Downing, and the Alliance for Natural Health: here (note: some of the links in the comment are no longer live). For more on detox, you may want to try the category. Or perhaps the Sense About Science leaflet: PDF.

1 Comment

  1. apgaylard said,

    Thanks for persisting with this. It’s just amazing how thin the Mail’s story was. Well, not so amazing given their track record.

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