Rickets, once thought vanquished, is reappearing. In some less developed countries it hardly went away. This seminar reviews the effects of genes, stage of development, and environment on clinical expression of the disease. Rickets can be secondary to disorders of the gut, pancreas, liver, kidney, or metabolism; however, it is mostly due to nutrient deficiency and we concentrate on this form. Although calcium deficiency contributes in communities where little cows' milk is consumed, deficiency of vitamin D is the main cause. There are three major problems: the promotion of exclusive breastfeeding for long periods without vitamin D supplementation, particularly for babies whose mothers are vitamin D deficient; reduced opportunities for production of the vitamin in the skin because of female modesty and fear of skin cancer; and the high prevalence of rickets in immigrant groups in more temperate regions. A safety net of extra dietary vitamin D should be re-emphasised, not only for children but also for pregnant women. The reason why many immigrant children in temperate zones have vitamin D deficiency is unclear. We speculate that in addition to differences in genetic factors, sun exposure, and skin pigmentation, iron deficiency may affect vitamin D handling in the skin or gut or its intermediary metabolism.