Before there was a vaccine in the fight against COVID-19, social distancing, the wearing of masks and the use of nutritional supplements were the frontline defense for a novel coronavirus that health officials and experts were desperately trying to figure out how to contain and control during 2020. While little was known about this new virus, there were many factors identified in that first year that contributed to the vast health disparities reported on COVID-19 for obese people and multiple Black, Asian, and minority ethnic groups. Out of the many contributing biological, socioeconomic and behavioral factors, one of these risk factors, vitamin D deficiency, could rapidly be reversed if more health education was disseminated to key communities.
As part of its mission to advance nutrient research and educate the public to take charge of their health, with 90% of all Americans being deficient in vitamin D, Organic & Natural Health Association worked with Pitch Publicity® to develop a grassroots education campaign called, “Get On My Level,” to highlight the proven health benefits of vitamin D. A key goal of the campaign was to encourage people in communities most at risk to know their vitamin D level by either asking their doctor to test or measuring and monitoring their own levels at home using a at-home test kit and vitamin D calculator from Organic & Natural Health’s research partner, GrassrootsHealth, to determine how much vitamin D is needed in order to reach the desired therapeutic levels of 40-60 ng/ml (100-150 nmol/L).
In an article by The National Institutes of Health (NIH), “Outcomes of COVID-19: disparities in obesity and by ethnicity/race,” vitamin D deficiency was identified as an important biologic hypothesis for observed associations between ethnicity, obesity and worse COVID-19 outcomes. The researchers stated that vitamin D supplementation in randomized, placebo-controlled studies, demonstrated reduced risk for acute respiratory tract infection. Associations between vitamin D deficiency and acute respiratory distress syndrome were also reported. With the prevalence of vitamin D deficiency in the U.S. population being the highest with Blacks (82.1%), followed by Hispanics (69.2%) and obesity, poor health status, hypertension and low high-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels all being reported as compacting factors. The NIH reports vitamin D deficiency as being one plausible explanation for a higher COVID-19 burden in these groups. Since it is not possible to eat your way to a significant
vitamin D level and converting vitamin D from the sun has always been a challenge for those with melanated skin designed to block vitamin D absorption, Pitch Publicity® secured Dr. Ken Redcross to be the spokesperson for the “Get On My Level” campaign and advocate for vitamin D supplementation as the most direct, cost-effective and practical way to improve everyone’s vitamin D level, without any racial barriers.
The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) confirms that long-standing systemic health and social inequities have put many people from racial and ethnic minority groups at increased risk of getting sick and dying from COVID-19, stating, “To achieve health equity, barriers must be removed so that everyone has a fair opportunity to be as healthy as possible.” Some of the factors the CDC lists as putting racial and ethnic minority groups at increased risk of getting sick and dying from COVID-19 include: discrimination, healthcare access and utilization, occupation, housing, education, income and wealth gaps. A published article in the Journal of Endocrinological Investigation concluded that vitamin D deficiency increased the risk of mortality in COVID-19 patients. Data analysis by the working group of Dr. Prabowo Raharusun shows a correlation of COVID-19 death rates based on vitamin D levels. The retrospective review shows that a vitamin D level of 19 ng/ml or less equals a death rate of 100%, while vitamin D levels of 34 ng/ml or higher equals a 0% death rate from COVID-19. Additionally, a retrospective study found COVID-19 ICU patients had higher rates of vitamin D deficiency compared to other admits.
Based on the most current research with vitamin D and COVID-19, Pitch Publicity® developed messaging for the “Get On My Level” campaign that was direct and clear for the general public to understand the health benefits of knowing their vitamin D levels and making sure their levels were within the therapeutic range. The name of the campaign was inspired by Wiz Khalifa’s song, “On My Level.”
The urban dictionary says “Get On My Level” is a phrase directed at someone or something to express how much better you are than them by stating that you are on a much advanced level in terms of the respected aspect in question and they and they should perhaps try and reach your level. Through our messaging we wanted communities most at risk for COVID-19 to
value their health by knowing their vitamin D levels as much as they would value other markers of wealth and success. And indeed, out of all the factors contributing to COVID-19 deaths for minority communities, the one factor that was easily controlled was simply knowing your own vitamin D level, which could be determined by a simple blood test taken at home or during a doctor’s visit.
During the concentrated 5-month multi-media campaign from July-November 2020 that involved traditional media (broadcast, print and digital) and social media (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram), more than 26 million media impressions were made in key markets focused on the targeted communities most at risk for vitamin D deficiency. Through the campaign Dr. Redcross challenged communities to “Get On My Level,” and turn the statistics around. He also urgently called upon medical colleagues to not withhold or distort this valuable information in order to change the trajectory of health for families, especially in Black and Latino communities where the need was the greatest. The www.PowerofD.org website was used for the “Get On My Level” challenge, containing resources including validated health facts on vitamin D; statistics on vitamin D levels and COVID-19 outcomes; educational materials to share on social media with the hashtag #40GetOnMyLevel60 and an easy-to-use vitamin D calculator to monitor and improve vitamin D levels. The site also included links to at-home vitamin D test kits from GrassrootsHealth, and directions on how to ask a doctor to test your vitamin D levels. For the education campaign, the issue was not whether the information on vitamin D was available or accurate, it was more about how, and to whom, it is being delivered, and that’s what “Get On My Level,” set out to accomplish and did.
In 2021, a leading nutrition trade publication, Nutrition Business Journal, awarded Dr. Ken Redcross with the “2020 Education Award” for his advocacy to get the word out to Black and Hispanic communities on the benefits of vitamin D and knowing your vitamin D level through Organic & Natural Health Association’s “Get On My Level” grassroots education and publicity campaign. The 2020 campaign was such a success, Organic & Natural Health Association was able to raise money from its members to extend the educational campaign into 2021 where it achieved even more credibility and media impressions of up to 60 million.