This review summarizes current knowledge on vitamin D status in the elderly with special attention to definition and prevalence of vitamin D insufficiency and deficiency, relationships between vitamin D status and various diseases common in the elderly, and the effects of intervention with vitamin D or vitamin D and calcium. Individual vitamin D status is usually estimated by measuring plasma 25-hydroxyvitamin D (25OHD) levels. However, reference values from normal populations are not applicable for the definition of vitamin D insufficiency or deficiency. Instead vitamin D insufficiency is defined as the lowest threshold value for plasma 25OHD (around 50 nmol/l) that prevents secondary hyperparathyroidism, increased bone turnover, bone mineral loss, or seasonal variations in plasma PTH. Vitamin D deficiency is defined as values below 25 nmol/l. Using these definitions vitamin D deficiency is common among community-dwelling elderly in the developed countries at higher latitudes and very common among institutionalized elderly, geriatric patients and patients with hip fractures. Vitamin D deficiency is an established risk factor for osteoporosis, falls and fractures. Clinical trials have demonstrated that 800 IU (20 microg) per day of vitamin D in combination with 1200 mg calcium effectively reduces the risk of falls and fractures in institutionalized patients. Furthermore, 400 IU (10 microg) per day in combination with 1000 mg calcium or 100 000 IU orally every fourth month without calcium reduces fracture risk in individuals over 65 years of age living at home. Yearly injections of vitamin D seem to have no effect on fracture risk probably because of reduced bioavailability. Simulation studies suggest that fortification of food cannot provide sufficient vitamin D to the elderly without exceeding present conventional safety levels for children. A combination of fortification and individual supplementation is proposed. It is argued that all official programmes should be evaluated scientifically. Epidemiological studies suggest that vitamin D insufficiency is related to a number of other disorders frequently observed among the elderly, such as breast, prostate and colon cancers, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disorders including hypertension. However, apart from hypertension, causality has not been established through randomized intervention studies. It seems that 800 IU (20 microg) vitamin D per day in combination with calcium reduces systolic blood pressure in elderly women.