The steroid hormone vitamin D is required for normal calcium and phosphorus metabolism and is thus an important contributor to musculoskeletal health. Recent data have linked low vitamin D levels to a wide range of diseases, including cancer, cardiovascular disease, autoimmune disease and infection. Adequate levels of vitamin D are maintained through its cutaneous photosynthesis and oral ingestion. By some estimates, one billion people worldwide have vitamin D deficiency or insufficiency. A number of factors influence the photosynthesis and bioavailability of vitamin D and contribute to risk of impaired vitamin D status. These factors include variation in sun exposure due to latitude, season, time of day, atmospheric components, clothing, sunscreen use and skin pigmentation, as well as age, obesity and the incidence of several chronic illnesses. This review will focus on factors that influence vitamin D status and contribute to the prevalence of low vitamin D levels.