The purpose of this review is to put into perspective the many health benefits of vitamin D and the role of vitamin D deficiency in increasing the risk of many common and serious diseases, including some common cancers, type 1 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and osteoporosis. Numerous epidemiologic studies suggest that exposure to sunlight, which enhances the production of vitamin D(3) in the skin, is important in preventing many chronic diseases. Because very few foods naturally contain vitamin D, sunlight supplies most of our vitamin D requirement. 25-Hydroxyvitamin D [25(OH)D] is the metabolite that should be measured in the blood to determine vitamin D status. Vitamin D deficiency is prevalent in infants who are solely breastfed and who do not receive vitamin D supplementation and in adults of all ages who have increased skin pigmentation or who always wear sun protection or limit their outdoor activities. Vitamin D deficiency is often misdiagnosed as fibromyalgia. A new dietary source of vitamin D is orange juice fortified with vitamin D. Studies in both human and animal models add strength to the hypothesis that the unrecognized epidemic of vitamin D deficiency worldwide is a contributing factor of many chronic debilitating diseases. Greater awareness of the insidious consequences of vitamin D deficiency is needed. Annual measurement of serum 25(OH)D is a reasonable approach to monitoring for vitamin D deficiency. The recommended adequate intakes for vitamin D are inadequate, and, in the absence of exposure to sunlight, a minimum of 1000 IU vitamin D/d is required to maintain a healthy concentration of 25(OH)D in the blood.