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Vital Vitamin


2 Star

Vital Vitamin

Our Review Summary

This story’s main failure was in not describing the newest vitamin D story completely, and not putting it in a larger context.  An outside expert would have been helpful with the latter.  In addition, ABC relied on the anecodotal advice of the network’s medical consultant.   The story did not clearly present the absolute risk reduction that might be achieved nor did it indicate what potential harms are associated with the over-treatment that might follow from consumption of supplements when circulating levels of vitamin D were already optimal.

This piece provided an interpretive dance rather than clear reporting of study results, what they mean, and how the information could be used by viewers for follow-up that might have health implications. 


Does the story adequately discuss the costs of the intervention?

Not Applicable

There was no discussion of the cost of vitamin D supplements, although most would recognize that the costs are insignificant.

Does the story adequately quantify the benefits of the treatment/test/product/procedure?

Not Satisfactory

The story mentioned that those in the lowest vitamin D group had a 26% increased risk of death compared to the highest group.  But that’s a relative risk figure.  Viewers should ask, "26% of what?" This information should instead have been provided as absolute risk reduction.  

Does the story adequately explain/quantify the harms of the intervention?

Not Satisfactory

There was no mention that excessive intake of vitamin D can be harmful and even fatal.  The reassurances of the medical editor that 1,000 IU is perfectly safe might lead others to infer that even more vitamin D might be safe and result in greater benefit.

Does the story seem to grasp the quality of the evidence?

Not Satisfactory
The story reported on an observational study which found that individuals with the lowest levels of vitamin D had an increased risk of death.  However – the study itself cautioned that it was an observational study and that causality cannot be inferred.  It went on to say that the study warrants replication and then a randomized clinical trial to determine whether supplementation with vitamin D reduces mortality risk in those who have vitamin D deficiency. 
Instead, we learn that Dr. Timothy Johnson takes vitamin D supplements.  Was he vitamin D deficient prior to supplementation?  Has oral consumption of vitamin D improved his circulating levels of vitamin D? And more important than the impact on one person – what do we know about how these factors apply more broadly?

Does the story commit disease-mongering?

Not Satisfactory

The focus of the story was an increased risk of dying without providing any sort of context.  It should have at least clarified that the study in no way indicated a causal relationship between low levels of vitamin D and premature death.  The story might have mentioned if there is a difference between frank deficiency in vitamin D levels and the low levels being reported on.

Does the story use independent sources and identify conflicts of interest?

Not Satisfactory

The only physician interviewed was the reporter himself, who crossed the line from providing expert analysis to sharing his own personal practice.  All this without clearly explaining the logic behind it.  The story ought to have included discussion with some individuals with expertise in the biology of vitamin D.

Does the story compare the new approach with existing alternatives?

Not Satisfactory

The viewer can deduce that vitamin D supplementation is one means of increasing ones vitamin D levels.  However the story did not include information on how one can learn about one’s vitamin D levels or means of increasing it other than taking a pill. A brief summary of food sources of vitamin D and the amount of sun exposure needed to generate vitamin D in the skin would have been helpful and easy to find.

Does the story establish the availability of the treatment/test/product/procedure?


The story touched on Vitamin D availability from various sources.

Does the story establish the true novelty of the approach?


It was clear that supplementation with vitamin D – and studies of enogenous levels of vitamin D – are not novel.

Does the story appear to rely solely or largely on a news release?

Not Applicable

We can’t be sure what source(s) the story relied on.  

Total Score: 2 of 8 Satisfactory


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