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The ABCs of D: Almost everyone needs more of the sunshine vitamin


2 Star

The ABCs of D: Almost everyone needs more of the sunshine vitamin

Our Review Summary

This was an overzealous piece about an important vitamin.  A more balanced piece would have included information about possible harms of excess vitamin D intake, and about availability of testing for inadequate vitamin D status.  A reference for lists of foods high in vitamin D (available on the NIH website) would have been helpful to the reader.

This story never overcame the cheerleading of the lead sentence: ""A single nutrient that keeps bones strong, wards off diabetes, and protects against tuberculosis, cancer, colds, and the flu." It makes it sound like vitamin D is good for everything under the sun and that there is absolute consensus that people do not have sufficient levels.  Indeed – the story states "there's no evidence of toxicity at much higher doses" when in fact, in extreme excess, vitamin D can be toxic.

The story provides snippets about many studies that have been done to look at the impact of vitamin D on a variety of physiological processes.  However, the story fails to describe the nature of the various studies and the quality of the evidence it presented. 

The story did not provide much practical information on sources of vitamin D or ways to maximize vitamin D that one might obtain from sun exposure.

There are many health benefits currently being hypothesized for vitamin D intake and there are ongoing attempts to define adequate levels of intake.  The discussion on vitamin D is open ended.  But to present these discussions as foregone conclusions is a disservice to the reader.


Does the story adequately discuss the costs of the intervention?

Not Satisfactory

There was no discussion of costs of vitamin D rich foods, vitamin D supplemented foods, or vitamin D containing supplements.  Though the story starts with a quip that "it's free", this only applies to sunlight.  A brief discussion even of the costs of supplements at the doses recommended would have strengthened the story.

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

Not Satisfactory

Adequate intake of vitamin D is necessary for prevention of rickets, a bone-deforming disease.  The other benefits postulated in the story included prevention of a wide range of diseases for which there is not conclusive data.  The story, however, made it seem like these were a slam dunk. 

It would have been interesting to quantify – in absolute terms – the benefit of vitamin D on at least one specific disease before and after national supplementation of the milk supply (e.g. the incidence of rickets) and contrast it with the claims being made for vitamin D that aren't well supported by strong data.

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

Not Satisfactory

This story failed to mention that excess vitamin D is stored in the body and that excessive intake can be fatal.

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

Not Satisfactory

The evidence presented as part of this story included a "landmark study" having to do with vitamin D and its role in defending the body against tuberculosis, and a "review of more than 100 studies on vitamin D" taken to explain vitamin D's role in the seasonality of the flu.  The "landmark study" was very interesting data on work done in a test tube which may suggest a role for vitamin D deficiency in tuberculosis susceptability.  The "review" did not contain any actual experimental data but rather was a compilation of associations that present a testable hypothesis.

Neither of these published papers actually demonstrate a clear association between vitamin D and diabetes, tuberculosis, cancer, colds, or the flu as suggested in the lead sentence of the story: "A single nutrient that keeps bones strong, wards off diabetes, and protects against tuberculosis, cancer, colds, and the flu."

Does the story commit disease-mongering?

Not Satisfactory

Although the primary focus could be characterized as excessive hype about a treatment, the references to avian flu and cancer amounted to disease mongering, especially when it falls under the subheadline of "Almost Everyone Needs More of the Sunshine Vitamin." 

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


Three researchers with interest in vitamin D were cited as was one researcher who was involved in one of the articles discussed in the story.

Does the story compare the new approach with existing alternatives?

Not Satisfactory

Although the story made it clear that some scientists believe that the level of vitamin D intake is inadequate, there was no information about how one might determine if one had inadequate levels of vitamin D.  The story did not include a very clear picture about what factors affect one's vitamin D status or conditions that might be particularly affected by vitamin D.  Most importantly, a brief discussion about the widespread (and reliable) testing available to assess vitamin D status would have been helpful.  And lastly – the story was very incomplete about sources of vitamin D if one were interested in increasing one's intake.

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

Not Satisfactory

The story included a statement that "a mere 10 to 15 minutes outdoors at midday gives the average fair-skinned person 10,000 international units" which is hyperbole because season and latitude greatly affect the amount of vitamin D synthesis that occurs. Even though the story included a statement about latitude a little later, the first statement is misleading for the reader.

The story included mention of food sources for "relatively modest amounts" of vitamin D, though that does little to help the reader know how much of the foods would need to be consumed.  Although the last sentence of the article listed one mini-meal plan, which, along with supplements would supply the suggested level of Vitamin D, this was an incomplete method of telling readers how to achieve adequate vitamin D intake.  The story also failed to mention the effect of sunscreen on vitamin D production by the body.

Does the story establish the true novelty of the approach?


As is clear from the story, the possible benefits of Vitamin D have been discussed and researched within the scientific community for a long time.

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


Does not appear to rely solely or largely on a press release.

Total Score: 3 of 10 Satisfactory


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