This piece reports on two recent studies that highlight the high prevalence of vitamin D insufficiency and its associated health risks among U.S. children and adolescents. While the findings suggest that 70% of U.S. children and adolescents do not get enough vitamin D, the news piece blurs the line between deficiency and insufficiency, which are clearly defined in the studies. It would have been more informative to tell viewers that 9% of the study population was found to be vitamin D deficient, while 61% was insufficient. Making the assumption that insufficiency is directly related to disease is incorrect, and amounts to disease mongering.
The story also failed to present data regarding the link between inadequate vitamin D intake and cardiovascular disease. Both studies indicated that additional research is needed to confirm the association; however, this was not mentioned by the reporter. This story would have also been strengthened, had it included the potential harms of taking too much vitamin D.
This story did not discuss the cost of vitamin D supplements but we can assume that most people know the ballpark costs, so we rule this criterion not applicable in this case.
No data from the studies were provided on the association between inadequate vitamin D intake and cardiovascular diseases.
These studies did not report on the harms of vitamin D, but it is worthwhile to mention that excessive intake of vitamin D supplements can have adverse effects, including nausea, vomiting, constipation and weakness. It may also lead to toxic levels of calcium in the bloodstream, causing serious health problems. Additionally, information about how to safely get enough sun exposure to convert vitamin D to its active form would have been helpful.
The study briefly describes the methodology, but fails to mention the study demographics or study limitations, such as lack of sun exposure information and other confounders. While the results of the studies show a correlation between vitamin D insufficiency and cardiovascular disease, additional well-designed trials are needed to confirm these finding.
This story did not make a distinction between vitamin D insufficiency and vitamin D deficiency. That’ disease-mongering. We actually don’t know if insufficient vitamin D status will result in health problems for many people who have it.
Several experts not involved in the studies were interviewed for this story. Of the three TV network stories we reviewed on this same topic, ABC was the only one to include independent voices.
There are no alternatives to vitamin D, but the story discussed its main sources, including dairy, sunlight and supplements.
Sources of vitamin D are widely available, and the story touches on several sources.
Other studies have also found a high prevalence of vitamin D deficiency in children and adolescents, but this U.S. study is the largest to date with over 6000 participants. This story – appropriately – did not try to make the new research sound like it was a novel finding, but rather gave a broader scope.
Because several experts not involved in the study were interviewed, it’s safe to assume the story did not rely on a news release.