Vitamin D Deficiency: Defining, Prevalence, Causes, and Strategies of Addressing

Calcif Tissue Int. 2020 Jan;106(1):14-29. doi: 10.1007/s00223-019-00559-4. Epub 2019 May 8.


There are variable definitions of vitamin D deficiency, based on different thresholds of serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D (25(OH)D); this has a major bearing on the prevalence estimates of vitamin D deficiency and consequently on the magnitude of the public health issue of low vitamin D status. Despite this, there is widespread acknowledgement of the presence of vitamin D deficiency, even using the most conservative serum 25(OH)D threshold of < 25/30 nmol/L, in both low- and high-income country setting and the pressing need to address this deficiency. While ultraviolet B-rich sunlight stimulates synthesis of vitamin D in skin, there are environmental factors and personal characteristics which prevent or impede such dermal synthesis. There are several complexities and concerns in advocating sun exposure as a public health approach for increasing vitamin D status. This places increased emphasis on addressing vitamin D deficiency through dietary means. However, naturally rich sources of vitamin D are few and infrequently consumed, and nutrition surveillance data from various countries have indicated that habitual vitamin D intakes in the population are much lower than the recommendations. There are a number of strategies that can be considered for the control of micronutrient malnutrition, these include (i) increasing the diversity of foods consumed, (ii) food fortification, and (iii) supplementation. The present narrative review will consider these strategies for addressing low dietary vitamin D intake and consequently lowering the risk of vitamin D deficiency.

Keywords: Biofortification; Food fortification; Prevalence; Supplementation; Vitamin D; Vitamin D deficiency; Vitamin D intakes.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Dietary Supplements*
  • Food, Fortified
  • Humans
  • Prevalence
  • Vitamin D / analogs & derivatives*
  • Vitamin D / metabolism
  • Vitamin D Deficiency / blood*
  • Vitamin D Deficiency / epidemiology*
  • Vitamins / metabolism


  • Vitamins
  • Vitamin D
  • 25-hydroxyvitamin D