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Vitamin Warning

Rating

3 Star

Vitamin Warning

Our Review Summary

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.
 

Criteria

Does the story adequately discuss the costs of the intervention?

Not Applicable

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.   

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

Not Satisfactory

No data from the studies were provided on the association between inadequate vitamin D intake and cardiovascular diseases.   

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

Not Satisfactory

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.

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

Not Satisfactory

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. 

Does the story commit disease-mongering?

Not Satisfactory

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. 

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

Satisfactory

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.

Does the story compare the new approach with existing alternatives?

Satisfactory

There are no alternatives to vitamin D, but the story discussed its main sources, including dairy, sunlight and supplements.  

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

Satisfactory

Sources of vitamin D are widely available, and the story touches on several sources.

Does the story establish the true novelty of the approach?

Satisfactory

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. 

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

Satisfactory

Because several experts not involved in the study were interviewed, it’s safe to assume the story did not rely on a news release.

Total Score: 5 of 9 Satisfactory

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