COVID-19 and Vitamin D Misinformation on YouTube: Content Analysis

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Background: The "infodemic"accompanying the SARS-CoV-2 virus pandemic has the potential to increase avoidable spread as well as engagement in risky health behaviors. Although social media platforms, such as YouTube, can be an inexpensive and effective method of sharing accurate health information, inaccurate and misleading information shared on YouTube can be dangerous for viewers. The confusing nature of data and claims surrounding the benefits of vitamin D, particularly in the prevention or cure of COVID-19, influences both viewers and the general "immune boosting"commercial interest. Objective: The aim of this study was to ascertain how information on vitamin D and COVID-19 was presented on YouTube in 2020. Methods: YouTube video results for the search terms "COVID,""coronavirus,"and "vitamin D"were collected and analyzed for content themes and deemed useful or misleading based on the accuracy or inaccuracy of the content. Qualitative content analysis and simple statistical analysis were used to determine the prevalence and frequency of concerning content, such as confusing correlation with causation regarding vitamin D benefits. Results: In total, 77 videos with a combined 10,225,763 views (at the time of data collection) were included in the analysis, with over three-quarters of them containing misleading content about COVID-19 and vitamin D. In addition, 45 (58%) of the 77 videos confused the relationship between vitamin D and COVID-19, with 46 (85%) of 54 videos stating that vitamin D has preventative or curative abilities. The major contributors to these videos were medical professionals with YouTube accounts. Vitamin D recommendations that do not align with the current literature were frequently suggested, including taking supplementation higher than the recommended safe dosage or seeking intentional solar UV radiation exposure. Conclusions: The spread of misinformation is particularly alarming when spread by medical professionals, and existing data suggesting vitamin D has immune-boosting abilities can add to viewer confusion or mistrust in health information. Further, the suggestions made in the videos may increase the risks of other poor health outcomes, such as skin cancer from solar UV radiation.




Quinn, E. K., Fenton, S., Ford-Sahibzada, C. A., Harper, A., Marcon, A. R., Caulfield, T., … Peters, C. E. (2022). COVID-19 and Vitamin D Misinformation on YouTube: Content Analysis. JMIR Infodemiology, 2(1).

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