Readers’ editor: Video abstracts

David Payne Cuba’s population witnessed huge economic change after losing the former Soviet Union as a trading partner in 1989. Food shortages caused by the downturn led to obesity rates falling from 12% to 7% in six years, an average weight loss of between 4-5kg across the whole population.

The country also introduced new green policies, including the creation of neighbourhood gardens and the arrival of 1.5m imported bikes from China.

Can developed countries currently affected by the economic downturn learn from Cuba’s experience? Can it be used to prevent cardiovascular disease and diabetes in say, Spain, the UK, and US? How important is a country’s transport policies in helping to reduce obesity and diabetes incidence?

All of the above information was gleaned not from the full text or abstract of a BMJ research paper, but from the video abstract  published to accompany it when it went online last week.

Manual Franco, associate professor in the social and cardiovascular epidemiology research group at Alcalá University Medical School, Madrid, was the lead author. His paper investigates population-wide weight loss and subsequent weight gain in relation to diabetes burden and cardiovascular mortality in Cuba between 1980 and 2010.

Video abstracts are a first for the BMJ. The seven minute clip, narrated by Professor Franco , describes how the research team analysed Cuba’s mortality data, cardiovascular health data, plus primary care chronic disease registries, to reach their conclusions.

The abstract was one of three published, all of them available on the BMJ website’s multimedia page, as embedded files in the actual papers, and on our YouTube channel. The second abstract accompanies a cohort study that assesses the association between obstetricians’ years of experience after training, and the maternal complications of their patients during their first 40 years of post-residency practice.

Co-author David Asch, an associate professor at the University of Pennsylvania, asks in the four-minute film: “This study tethers clinical outcomes with medical education. The more we can evaluate how good our training program is with how good the care is, the better able we are to develop good training programs that suit the nation’s needs. Are our training programs producing the kind of doctors? ”

The third video abstract accompanies a systematic review and meta-analysis of observational studies and investigates the association of coronary artery calcium score with all cause mortality and cardiovascular events in people with type 2 diabetes. Caroline Kramer, endocrinology research fellow at Mount Sinai Hospital’s centre for diabetes in Toronto, says in the film: “Our results suggest the need for further investigation, particularly oweing to the implications that a negative screening test may hold for the clinical certifcation in this patient population.”

Video abstracts were first discussed more than a year ago at a meeting between the BMJ and Institute of Physics. The IOP introduced video abstracts to its New Journal of Physics in 2009 and describes them as a way of enabling authors to “go beyond the constraints of the written article to convey their research.”

The journal provides a page of author feedback about video abstracts. This one from Mark Fromhold, a physics professor at the University of Nottingham, is typical

He writes: “Video abstracts convey the core of a paper quickly and directly by combining authors’ commentary with animations. This format makes the paper more visible and accessible to the scientific community and is also ideal for outreach—which increases the value of the publication.”

From now on we will routinely contact the authors of accepted papers and ask them to consider submitting a short film. We hope the three uploaded so far, each of them very different, will inspire others to follow suit. In time we will publish guidance on, after we have had some feedback from readers, so we can advise which approach is the most popular.

Video abstracts don’t have to be slick films with high production values. Most will be a simple piece to camera from an author explaining what a paper set out to investigate, what approach was taken and why, and a summary of the results and conclusion.

Professor Franco hits the nail on the head when he describes his Cuban paper: “This is more than a story about statistics. It is also a story about people.”

For more information about video abstracts, contact BMJ multimedia editor Duncan Jarvies at

David Payne is editor,, and BMJ readers’ editor.