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Vitamin D


3 Star

Vitamin D

Our Review Summary

This was a report on a new study of vitamin D levels in children.

It fell short because it:

  • Committed disease-mongering, linking vitamin D to other conditions which are common and can be caused by many other things.
  • Failed to point out the limitations of such observational studies.  You can’t prove causation from an observational study.  The story should have at least nodded in this direction.
  • Didn’t evaluate the study or the quality of the evidence in any way.  It just took the researchers’ work at face value.
  • Only included the perspectives of one of the researchers, but sought no independent voice.
  • May have caused unnecessary fear.  


Does the story adequately discuss the costs of the intervention?

Not Applicable

There was no discussion about the costs of multivitamins or that nearly all milk sold is vitamin D fortified.  However, since we can assume that many people know these ballpark costs, we’ll rule this as not applicable.

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

Not Satisfactory

The story did not detail the benefits associated with increased vitamin D intake  or sunshine exposure.  The segment could have included a brief statement about the health benefits of treating low vitamin D levels to decrease the incidence of rickets and osteomalacia.

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

Not Satisfactory

There was no mention of the fact that excessive intake of vitamin D can result in harms (including death).

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

Not Satisfactory

There was no evaluation of the evidence.  It is important to be aware that this information is from observational studies and therefore further study is needed to clarify the cause(s) of the low levels of vitamin D observed and to determine what – if any – link exists between the diseases mentioned and levels of circulating vitamin D.



Does the story commit disease-mongering?

Not Satisfactory

Low vitamin D level is not a disease.  The list of conditions which the stoory linked to lower vitamin D status are common and can be caused by many other things as well.  Subtle though this may have been (and we didn’t think it was very subtle), people don’t constantly need to be hounded that they are deficient in this and should be taking pills or supplements for that.  That is disease mongering.

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

Not Satisfactory

The segment only includes the perspective of one of the study authors.  Vitamin D experts are not difficult to find, nor are pediatricians who know something about vitamin D needs.  A single source story is not a good idea in health stories.

Does the story compare the new approach with existing alternatives?


The segment briefly mentioned multivitamins, fortified foods, and sunlight exposure. Not much detail, but we’ll give it the benefit of the doubt on this one.

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


This segment makes it sound so simple – Dr. Synderman say    ‘It means getting out in the sunshine for about 10 to 15 minutes a day without sunscreen.’  This statement is unfortunately woefully incomplete, rendering it inaccurate.   The capacity to derive vitamin D from sunlight depends on the amount of skin exposed, race, latitude, and time of year.  10 minutes at the equator in June is very different than 10 minutes in Boston in November.

The piece also contained a recommendation about use of a multivitamin and the availability of vitamin D in fortified milk, so we’ll give it the benefit of the doubt.

Does the story establish the true novelty of the approach?


No claims were made about sun exposure or supplementation being novel to prevent inadequate vitamin D levels.

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


Does not appear to rely exclusively on a press release.

Total Score: 4 of 9 Satisfactory


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