Study examines UK media coverage of vitamin D and COVID-19

The ongoing coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, which was caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), remained of significant global concern. As a result, several areas have been targeted for the development of therapeutics to slow the rate of infection. One such modifiable lifestyle intervention is dietary vitamin D.

Study: A year in the public life of COVID-19 and vitamin D: portrayal in UK media and implications for health communications. Image Credit: EReka / Shutterstock.com

Background

The association of low serum 25(OH)D with increased susceptibility to acute respiratory tract infections has been the basis of scientific debate about the potential relationship of vitamin D with COVID-19. Moreover, effector mechanisms such as induction of autophagy and synthesis of reactive nitrogen and oxygen intermediates are believed to be initiated by vitamin D metabolites. Therefore, it can be suggested that vitamin D protects the host against respiratory pathogens, including SARS-CoV-2 infections.

Additionally, several risk factors associated with poor COVID-19 outcomes are similar to those associated with vitamin D deficiency. However, other risk factors should be considered before concluding on the relationship between COVID -19 and vitamin D.

A rapid evidence-based review by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) in conjunction with Public Health England and the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition has urged all members of the public to take vitamin D supplements for maintenance bone and muscle health in the UK.

Furthermore, previous research has indicated that the media plays a vital role in disseminating information to the public. Since the level of direct knowledge and personal experience regarding the COVID-19 pandemic is low, the public is dependent on the media for information.

A new study published on the preprint server medRxiv* investigates the relationship between COVID-19 and vitamin D that has been featured in mainstream media sources like UK newspapers. The study also assessed the level of misinformation by comparing the content of newspaper articles to the evidence-based guidelines of the NICE report.

About the study

The current study involved collecting data from the five most popular newspapers including The Mirror, The Sun, The Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday, Metro and Express Online in the UK from February 2020 to February 2021. keys “covid” and “vitamin D” were used to search for published articles.

Subsequently, inductive thematic analysis was used to determine the relationship between COVID-19 and vitamin D that was presented in journal articles.

Number of articles published by the five most popular newspapers in the UK containing the keywords

Number of articles published by the five most popular newspapers in the UK containing the keywords “vitamin D” and “COVID” over 1 year of publications. Retrieved 4/13/21.

Study results

The results indicated that articles published in newspapers with the keywords “vitamin D” and “COVID” decreased from March to August, followed by an increase and a peak in November. The majority of articles were published in Express Online compared to the other four newspapers.

Most articles reported that vitamin D was associated with COVID-19, with many articles citing “scientists” as the source. In particular, some articles focused on the importance of following government guidelines to control infection.

Most of the media coverage of the relationship between vitamin D and COVID-19 outcomes has been based on published research findings. Some articles reported a causal link, while others indicated the need for further research. Additionally, opinions regarding the use of vitamin D as a treatment for COVID-19 also varied.

“Correct” vs. “incorrect” opinions of newspaper articles.

The articles reported that the deputies’ claims were inaccurate. Vitamin D levels have been reported to drop during times of lockdown, with many articles recommending a daily dose of vitamin D.

Few groups were reported to be at higher risk for vitamin D deficiency due to several factors and deficiency was prevalent throughout the year depending on the season. Besides its association with COVID-19, vitamin D is believed to play a major role in maintaining general health.

Natural food sources of vitamin D are said to be limited. Sun exposure is believed to be the main source of vitamin D for people in the UK, as well as around the world. However, too much sun is harmful and can lead to cancer. Vitamin D supplements have also been advised; however, the dose should not exceed 10 micrograms (mcg).

conclusion

Overall, the current study indicated that most of the information regarding the association between vitamin D and COVID-19 has been correctly published in newspapers in the UK. The public should be well informed about preventive measures against COVID-19, as they can help avoid the disease.

Further research should focus on the accuracy of information disseminated by traditional media. Where there is misinformation, journalistic integrity must be improved in all media.

Boundaries

Since most articles related to vitamin D and COVID-19 have been published in a single journal, the data may be skewed.

*Important Notice

medRxiv publishes preliminary scientific reports that are not peer-reviewed and, therefore, should not be considered conclusive, guide clinical practice/health-related behaviors, or treated as established information.[if–>


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Edward L. Robinett