Serum 25-hydroxy vitamin D levels were measured in 297 adult Asians and 68 white subjects at different times of year and seasonal variation compared between subjects grouped according to ethnic origin, religion and dietary habit. A sub-group of Asians with symptoms and biochemical changes suggestive of osteomalacia underwent bone biopsy, and static bone histomorphometry was performed. Histological osteomalacia was detected in 15 Asians and borderline changes in 13. The majority of these cases were among vegetarian Hindus. Significant seasonal variation in 25-hydroxy vitamin D was observed in all groups, but with lower peak and trough levels among Asians, and especially the Hindus and vegetarian Asians. Summer rises in 25-hydroxy vitamin D levels were blunted among Hindus and vegetarian Asians, compared to whites, Muslims and non-vegetarian Asians. Vegetarian Asians had significantly lower serum calcium and higher PTH levels than non-vegetarians, but multivariate analysis indicated that this was an effect of osteomalacia, not vegetarianism. We conclude that solar exposure has a significant effect on vitamin D status in Asians resident in London. Non-vegetarian Asians have similar rise and peak levels to whites, but those taking a vegetarian diet (in particular, Hindus) have an impaired seasonal rise in 25-hydroxy vitamin D levels, and are at particular risk of metabolic bone disease. This effect did not appear to be mediated through secondary hyperparathyroidism consequent on a vegetarian diet.