Osteoporosis is a metabolic bone disease characterized by low bone mass and deterioration of bone tissue that leads to bone fragility and an increase in fracture risk. It is a disease with a complex etiology that includes genetic and environmental contributors. Environmental factors that influence bone density include dietary factors-such as intakes of calcium, alcohol, and caffeine-and lifestyle factors-such as exercise and smoking. Ethnic differences in the propensity to nontraumatic bone fracture suggest that genetic factors are important. Recently, common allelic variations in he vitamin D receptor gene have been found to be associated with bone mineral density in racially diverse population groups, as well as in prepubertal girls, young adult and postmenopausal women, and men. However, many studies have not been able to find this association. Additional approaches, such as sib-pair analysis, will probably be necessary in the future to identify the important determinants of osteoporosis.