Does the High Prevalence of Vitamin D Deficiency in African Americans Contribute to Health Disparities?

Nutrients. 2021 Feb 3;13(2):499. doi: 10.3390/nu13020499.


African Americans have higher incidence of, and mortality from, many health-related problems than European Americans. They also have a 15 to 20-fold higher prevalence of severe vitamin D deficiency. Here we summarize evidence that: (i) this health disparity is partly due to insufficient vitamin D production, caused by melanin in the skin blocking the UVB solar radiation necessary for its synthesis; (ii) the vitamin D insufficiency is exacerbated at high latitudes because of the combination of dark skin color with lower UVB radiation levels; and (iii) the health of individuals with dark skin can be markedly improved by correcting deficiency and achieving an optimal vitamin D status, as could be obtained by supplementation and/or fortification. Moderate-to-strong evidence exists that high 25-hydroxyvitamin D levels and/or vitamin D supplementation reduces risk for many adverse health outcomes including all-cause mortality rate, adverse pregnancy and birth outcomes, cancer, diabetes mellitus, Alzheimer's disease and dementia, multiple sclerosis, acute respiratory tract infections, COVID-19, asthma exacerbations, rickets, and osteomalacia. We suggest that people with low vitamin D status, which would include most people with dark skin living at high latitudes, along with their health care provider, consider taking vitamin D3 supplements to raise serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D levels to 30 ng/mL (75 nmol/L) or possibly higher.

Keywords: 25-hydroxyvitamin D; African American; European American; Hispanic; UVB; blacks; health disparities; vitamin D; whites.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • African Americans
  • Alzheimer Disease / etiology
  • Alzheimer Disease / prevention & control
  • Antigens, Neoplasm
  • COVID-19 / etiology*
  • COVID-19 / prevention & control*
  • Cholecalciferol / administration & dosage*
  • Dementia / etiology
  • Dementia / prevention & control
  • Diabetes Mellitus / etiology
  • Diabetes Mellitus / prevention & control
  • Dietary Supplements*
  • Female
  • Health Status Disparities*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Prevalence
  • Status Asthmaticus / etiology
  • Status Asthmaticus / prevention & control
  • Vitamin D / analogs & derivatives
  • Vitamin D / blood
  • Vitamin D Deficiency / complications
  • Vitamin D Deficiency / epidemiology*
  • Vitamin D Deficiency / ethnology*


  • Antigens, Neoplasm
  • cancerocerebral antigen, human
  • Vitamin D
  • Cholecalciferol
  • 25-hydroxyvitamin D