Search tips
Search criteria 


Logo of amjepidLink to Publisher's site
Am J Epidemiol. 2010 July 1; 172(1): 21–35.
Published online 2010 June 18. doi:  10.1093/aje/kwq113
PMCID: PMC2892536

Correlates of Circulating 25-Hydroxyvitamin D

Cohort Consortium Vitamin D Pooling Project of Rarer Cancers


Low vitamin D status is common globally and is associated with multiple disease outcomes. Understanding the correlates of vitamin D status will help guide clinical practice, research, and interpretation of studies. Correlates of circulating 25-hydroxyvitamin D (25(OH)D) concentrations measured in a single laboratory were examined in 4,723 cancer-free men and women from 10 cohorts participating in the Cohort Consortium Vitamin D Pooling Project of Rarer Cancers, which covers a worldwide geographic area. Demographic and lifestyle characteristics were examined in relation to 25(OH)D using stepwise linear regression and polytomous logistic regression. The prevalence of 25(OH)D concentrations less than 25 nmol/L ranged from 3% to 36% across cohorts, and the prevalence of 25(OH)D concentrations less than 50 nmol/L ranged from 29% to 82%. Seasonal differences in circulating 25(OH)D were most marked among whites from northern latitudes. Statistically significant positive correlates of 25(OH)D included male sex, summer blood draw, vigorous physical activity, vitamin D intake, fish intake, multivitamin use, and calcium supplement use. Significant inverse correlates were body mass index, winter and spring blood draw, history of diabetes, sedentary behavior, smoking, and black race/ethnicity. Correlates varied somewhat within season, race/ethnicity, and sex. These findings help identify persons at risk for low vitamin D status for both clinical and research purposes.

Keywords: body mass index, cohort studies, diet, dietary supplements, ethnic groups, exercise, seasons, vitamin D

Vitamin D has established benefits for bone health and may play a preventive role in other major diseases (1), but questions persist about what constitutes optimal vitamin D status. Substantial segments of the population in the United States and globally have low vitamin D concentrations (2). Thus, it is important to understand what factors contribute to concentrations of 25-hydroxyvitamin D (25(OH)D), the major circulating metabolite of vitamin D and indicator of vitamin D status.

The major sources of circulating 25(OH)D include exposure to ultraviolet radiation (ultraviolet B, 280–315 nm) and dietary and supplemental vitamin D intake. Additional constitutional and behavioral factors can further influence 25(OH)D status in various populations. Investigators in multiple studies have used statistical modeling to examine the relative contribution of endogenous and exogenous factors to variation in circulating 25(OH)D levels (226), and results from many of these studies were summarized in a 2008 International Agency for Research on Cancer report on vitamin D and cancer (27). Many studies were either small and/or lacked diversity by geographic location, age, sex, or race/ethnicity, precluding examination of a broad range of determinants according to specific subpopulations such as race/ethnicity and season of blood collection. For example, approximately half of the studies involved European countries at latitudes greater than or equal to 50°N, which is further north than anywhere in the continental United States (25, 89, 1216, 24, 26).

In this report, we examine the correlates of circulating 25(OH)D in the large control population of the Cohort Consortium Vitamin D Pooling Project of Rarer Cancers (VDPP). This is a geographically and demographically diverse group of men and women, including participants from US, Finnish, and Chinese cohort studies, with information on numerous factors affecting vitamin D status.


Study design and population

Study subjects included 4,723 control participants (2,588 female and 2,135 male) from the VDPP (28). Briefly, investigators in the VDPP assayed serum or plasma samples collected prospectively in 1974–2006 for 25(OH)D and examined its association with 6 cancers (endometrial, gastric/esophageal, kidney, ovarian, pancreatic, and non-Hodgkin lymphoma), using a matched nested case-control design (28). The cohorts included in the present analysis were the Alpha-Tocopherol, Beta-Carotene Cancer Prevention Study (ATBC), the Cancer Prevention Study II Nutrition Cohort (CPS-II), CLUE II (named for the slogan “Give us a Clue to Cancer and Heart Disease”), the Health Professionals Follow-up Study (HPFS), the Multiethnic Cohort Study (MEC), the New York University Women's Health Study (NYU-WHS), the Nurses’ Health Study (NHS), the Prostate, Lung, Colorectal and Ovarian Cancer Screening Trial (PLCO), the Shanghai Men's Health Study (SMHS), and the Shanghai Women's Health Study (SWHS). Investigators in each cohort study received institutional review board approval from their home institution(s) to participate in the VDPP.

Measurement of circulating 25(OH)D

All plasma/serum samples were measured for 25(OH)D at Heartland Assays, Inc. (Ames, Iowa), using the DiaSorin LIAISON 25(OH) Vitamin D TOTAL Assay (29) as described in detail elsewhere (28). Batches were analyzed by cohort and included masked vitamin D standards provided by the National Institute of Standards and Technology. Interbatch coefficients of variation for these standards were 12.7% and 13.6% for level 1 (~60 nmol/L) and level 2 (~35 nmol/L) standards, respectively (28).


Covariate data obtained closest to the time of blood draw in each cohort were cleaned and harmonized. The following potential correlates of circulating 25(OH)D were examined: alcohol use (current use, no current use, or missing data); body mass index (weight (kg)/height (m)2), both continuous and categorical (<25, 25–<30, ≥30, or missing data); education (less than high school, completion of high school, vocational school, some college, college graduation, or graduate study); postmenopausal hormone replacement therapy (no current use, current use, or missing data); history of diabetes (no, yes, or missing data); history of high blood pressure (no, yes, or missing data); physical activity (sedentary, light activity, moderate activity, vigorous activity, or missing data); race/ethnicity (white, black, Asian, other, or missing data); smoking status (never smoker, former smoker, or current smoker); and season of blood draw (winter (January–March), spring (April–June), summer (July–September), or fall (October–December)). Potential dietary determinants of 25(OH)D concentration included vitamin D intake (IU/day, continuous), calcium intake (mg/day, continuous), milk intake (g/day, continuous), dairy food intake (g/day, continuous), fish intake (g/day, continuous), use of calcium supplements (no current use, current use, or missing data), and use of multivitamin supplements (no current use, current use, or missing data). Nutrient levels were energy-adjusted using the residuals method (30). Information on use of individual vitamin D supplements (apart from multivitamin supplements) was not available; however, the prevalence of use of vitamin D-specific supplements was less than 2% among ambulatory US adults in the 1990s (31).

Subanalyses were conducted among 4 cohorts for which investigators quantified doses of total vitamin D (dietary intake plus supplemental vitamin D, continuous) and total calcium (dietary intake plus supplemental calcium, continuous) and among 5 cohorts for which there was detailed information on eye color (blue, green/gray, brown/black, or missing data) and hair color (red, blond/light brown, brown/black, or missing data). Information on skin tone was available for only 2 cohorts, so this was not examined.

Statistical analysis

The differences in circulating 25(OH)D were examined by season, stratified by race/ethnicity and, where possible, latitude of residence. Analysis of variance was used to test whether the mean 25(OH)D concentration within season of blood draw varied by latitude (<35°N, 35°N –42°N, or >42°N) or across seasons within each racial/ethnic and latitude group. Participant characteristics were determined according to the following 25(OH)D cutpoints: <25, 25–<37.5, 37.5–<50, 50–<75, 75–<100, and ≥100 nmol/L, corresponding to common cutpoints used in the literature and in the VDPP site-specific analyses (28, 3234).

Stepwise linear regression analysis was used to derive regression coefficients of correlates with continuous 25(OH)D as the outcome variable. Visual inspection of the residual Q-Q plot from the linear regression model of circulating 25(OH)D suggested departure from normality by the residuals. Using the Box-Cox procedure (35), the square-root transformation was chosen. Models with transformed and untransformed results were similar; therefore, for ease of interpretation, only the results from models using the nontransformed 25(OH)D data are presented. A backward stepwise procedure was used, allowing only variables with a P value less than or equal to 0.10 for at least 1 category to remain in the model, while retaining age, sex, cohort, and season. Stepwise procedures were conducted for all cohorts combined, for US-only cohorts, and stratified by sex, race/ethnicity, and season. Overall P values for categorical variables were calculated using the Type III Sum of Squares feature from the Proc GLM procedure in SAS (SAS Institute Inc., Cary, North Carolina).

Predictors of “very low” (<25 nmol/L), “low” (25–50 nmol/L), and “higher” (≥75 nmol/L) 25(OH)D concentrations were examined using multivariate polytomous logistic regression. The control group category of 50–<75 nmol/L was chosen to correspond with our site-specific analyses (28). Participants with missing information on diet (n = 258) were excluded from stepwise and polytomous regression models. All statistical analyses were conducted using SAS, version 9.1.3 or 9.2. Figures were created using R (R Foundation for Statistical Computing, Vienna, Austria (


Participating VDPP cohorts and control characteristics are presented in Table 1. All participants were adults; the majority were over age 50 years. In most cohorts, blood samples were collected throughout the year, except CLUE II, in which samples were collected from May to November, and ATBC, in which only 7% of samples were collected during June and August and none were collected in July.

Table 1.
Characteristics (%) of Participants in the Cohort Consortium Vitamin D Pooling Project of Rarer Cancers, by Cohort

Participants came from Finland, Shanghai, China, and all major geographic regions of the United States. Seventy-two percent of participants were white, 4% were black, 18% were Asian, and 4% were of other race/ethnicity. In the ATBC, SMHS, and SWHS cohorts, approximately 20% of the population or more had very low 25(OH)D levels (<25 nmol/L). In the CLUE II, CPS-II, and HPFS cohorts, more than 20% of the population had 25(OH)D concentrations greater than or equal to 75 nmol/L.

Figure 1 illustrates the unadjusted distributions of circulating 25(OH)D by country. Vertical lines show cutpoints used in the analyses. The distribution of 25(OH)D concentrations was slightly higher among men in the United States (Figure 1, part A) and China (Figure 1, part B) than among women in these countries. The median 25(OH)D levels among men and women in the United States were 58.4 nmol/L and 51.7 nmol/L, and in China they were 38.0 nmol/L and 33.1 nmol/L, respectively. The ATBC Study, which included only Finnish men, had the lowest vitamin D status of all cohorts (median concentration, 31.9 nmol/L) (Figure 1, part C).

Figure 1.
Distribution of circulating 25-hydroxyvitamin D (25(OH)D) concentrations by country within the Cohort Consortium Vitamin D Pooling Project of Rarer Cancers. A) Distribution of circulating 25(OH)D concentrations among US men and women. Vertical lines represent ...

Figure 2 illustrates the distribution of circulating 25(OH)D by race/ethnicity, season of blood draw, and latitude. In whites (Figure 2, part A), 25(OH)D concentrations were lowest in all seasons among persons living at latitudes greater than 42°N and highest among those living at latitudes lower than 35°N. The amplitude of seasonal differences was most marked among whites living in the North, although seasonal differences were statistically significant in each latitude stratum. In blacks (n = 188; Figure 2, part B), mean concentrations did not vary within season by 2 latitude strata, except that those living in the South (<35°N latitude) had borderline-significantly different circulating 25(OH)D according to season (P = 0.06). Among Asians (n = 871) and persons of “other” race/ethnicity (n = 188) (Figure 2, part C), statistically significant differences in circulating 25(OH)D were observed by season; these subgroups could not be examined by latitude because of a lack of geographic diversity.

Figure 2.
Mean circulating 25-hydroxyvitamin D (25(OH)D) concentrations by race/ethnicity, season, and latitude within the Cohort Consortium Vitamin D Pooling Project of Rarer Cancers. Circles represent mean values; bars represent the standard error. A) 25(OH)D ...

Table 2 provides unadjusted summary data for potential correlates analyzed according to a priori 25(OH)D cutpoints. Higher percentages of black and Asian participants had 25(OH)D concentrations less than 25 nmol/L as compared with whites and persons of “other” race/ethnicity. The prevalence of 25(OH)D concentrations less than 25 nmol/L was highest among persons who had had blood drawn in the winter. Circulating 25(OH)D concentrations also varied by alcohol consumption, body mass index, use of hormone replacement therapy, education, history of diabetes, history of hypertension, cigarette smoking, physical activity, and use of nutritional supplements.

Table 2.
Distribution of Participant Characteristics According to A Priori 25-Hydroxyvitamin D Category in the Cohort Consortium Vitamin D Pooling Project of Rarer Cancersa

Results from the stepwise regression models are presented in Table 3. Variables positively associated with circulating 25(OH)D concentrations among all controls were male sex, summer blood draw (vs. fall), vigorous physical activity (vs. light activity), current alcohol use (vs. none), vitamin D intake, fish intake, and current use of calcium and multivitamin supplements (vs. no current use). Variables associated with lower circulating 25(OH)D were body mass index, winter and spring blood draw (vs. fall), history of diabetes, sedentary physical activity (vs. light activity), current smoking (vs. never smoking), and black and “other” race/ethnicity (vs. white). Together, these variables explained 30% of the variation in 25(OH)D concentrations. Models limited to US-only participants yielded similar findings, except that intake of milk (which is fortified with vitamin D in the United States) was a predictor while fish intake was not (data not shown).

Table 3.
Variables Associated With Circulating 25-Hydroxyvitamin D Concentrations (nmol/L) Among Controls in Stepwise Regression Models, Overall and by Sex and Race/Ethnicity, Cohort Consortium Vitamin D Pooling Project of Rarer Cancersa

Results from stepwise regression models stratified by sex and race/ethnicity are also shown in Table 3. Predictors in men and women varied slightly: Only the category of obesity (body mass index ≥30) was associated with significantly lower concentrations in men; a linear association with body mass index was observed among women. Associations with physical activity, smoking, vitamin use, and dietary sources varied between the sexes. In whites, who comprised 72% of the total sample population, statistically significant predictors were the same as those for the entire population. Among blacks, only male sex, summer blood draw, dietary calcium intake, and current multivitamin use remained in the model; all were positively associated with circulating 25(OH)D. Among Asians, male sex, summer blood draw, and current alcohol use were positively associated with 25(OH)D concentrations, while winter and spring blood draw (vs. fall), current smoking, and dietary calcium and vitamin D intakes were inversely related.

Table 4 presents results from stepwise regression analyses stratified by season of blood draw. Male sex and dietary vitamin D intake were positively associated and body mass index and black race/ethnicity were inversely associated with 25(OH)D concentrations in every season. The adjusted r2 value for winter was 32%, whereas the summer model explained only 16% of the variation in 25(OH)D concentrations. In the winter, as opposed to the summer (when sun exposure would be expected to dominate 25(OH)D status), cigarette smoking and a high school education were inversely associated with circulating 25(OH)D concentrations and fish intake and multivitamin use were positively associated.

Table 4.
Variables Associated With Circulating 25-Hydroxyvitamin D Concentrations (nmol/L) Among Controls in Stepwise Regression Models According to Season of Blood Draw, Cohort Consortium Vitamin D Pooling Project of Rarer Cancersa

In the subset of 4 cohorts with data on dose of supplemental vitamin D and calcium (ATBC, CPS-II, NHS, and PLCO), both total vitamin D intake (12.7-nmol increase/1,000 IU) and fish intake (6.1-nmol/L increase per 100 g) remained in the model. The Spearman correlation between 25(OH)D and dietary vitamin D intake (all cohorts) was 0.22 (P < 0.0001), and for total vitamin D intake (4 cohorts) it was 0.29 (P < 0.0001). In the 5 cohorts with information on hair color and eye color (ATBC, HPFS, MEC, SMHS, and SWHS), these variables did not remain in the final model, and race/ethnicity remained a statistically significant predictor.

Table 5 displays predictors of 25(OH)D concentrations for the categories <25, 25–<50, and ≥75 nmol/L. The statistically significant predictors of very low 25(OH)D concentrations (<25 nmol/L) were black race/ethnicity, low vitamin D intake, female sex, obesity, sedentary behavior, and winter blood draw. Factors inversely associated with very low concentrations of 25(OH)D included Asian race/ethnicity, calcium supplement use, multivitamin use, and alcohol consumption. Predictors of 25(OH)D concentrations between 25 nmol/L and 49.9 nmol/L were similar to those for <25 nmol/L, but the associations were weaker. Vigorous physical activity was positively associated with higher 25(OH)D concentrations (≥75 nmol/L), while obesity and low dietary vitamin D intake were inversely associated. Current use of calcium and multivitamin supplements, male sex, and summer blood draw were associated with a borderline-significantly higher likelihood of greater 25(OH)D concentrations.

Table 5.
Odds Ratios for the Association Between Selected Covariates and Circulating 25-Hydroxyvitamin D Concentrations, Cohort Consortium Vitamin D Pooling Project of Rarer Cancersa


In this analysis of over 4,700 men and women, low concentrations of 25(OH)D were common, especially in China and Finland. Marked variation in 25(OH)D concentrations by season of blood draw was seen among whites, especially for those living in northern latitudes, whereas less striking seasonal variation was observed in blacks and persons of “other” race/ethnicity. Variables that significantly predicted circulating 25(OH)D concentrations included sex, race/ethnicity, body mass index, alcohol consumption, fish intake, dietary vitamin D intake, season of blood draw, history of diabetes, physical activity, smoking status, and use of vitamin D-containing multivitamins and calcium supplements. Participants with higher 25(OH)D concentrations (≥75 nmol/L) tended to be male, to be leaner, to consume more dietary vitamin D, and to engage in vigorous physical activity.

The prevalence of very low concentrations of 25(OH)D (<25 nmol/L) in most US cohorts in this analysis was similar to national estimates of approximately 4% in older adults (36). Exceptions included the MEC, which has large proportions of African Americans and Japanese Americans, and NYU-WHS, which includes only women living at a higher latitude and in a city (New York) where ultraviolet light exposure may be further limited by tall buildings that block sunlight. The prevalence of 25(OH)D concentrations less than 25 nmol/L was 11% in MEC and 13% in NYU-WHS. Prevalences of low concentrations were higher in Finland and China than in the United States. In Finland, a country at a high northern latitude, 64% of blood samples were collected in months during which ultraviolet-induced vitamin D synthesis in the skin is very limited. By contrast, Asians living at a lower latitude in Shanghai probably absorb less ultraviolet radiation because of their somewhat darker skin pigmentation and possibly cultural practices such as avoiding direct sun exposure and wearing more clothing. In both Finland and China, food is not regularly fortified with vitamin D, in contrast to the United States. The inclusion of the MEC cohort points out interesting contrasts between Asian populations in the United States and China and the potential influence of location. For example, very few persons of Japanese ancestry in the MEC (1 out of 109) had concentrations less than 25 nmol/L, which explains the lower risk of very low 25(OH)D concentrations among “Asians” after we controlled for cohort (e.g., the SWHS and SMHS) in the model. Japanese Americans in the MEC cohort are exposed to more sunlight than Chinese persons in Shanghai, and they also consume milk fortified with vitamin D. The concentration of 25(OH)D that is optimal for disease prevention is still undetermined, but concentrations of 75 nmol/L or more have been advocated (34, 37). A relatively small proportion of participants had concentrations greater than 75 nmol/L, ranging from 3% in SWHS to 27% in CLUE II, with the latter cohort having had their blood samples collected between May and November.

The strongest predictor of very low 25(OH)D concentrations in the present study was race/ethnicity, with blacks being 9 times more likely than whites to have very low vitamin D status, which is consistent with the literature (6, 7, 10, 1618, 27). This finding is probably due in part to the higher melanin content of dark skin, which blocks pro-vitamin D3 formation in the epidermis and dermis (38). Current multivitamin use was a particularly strong predictor of circulating 25(OH)D among blacks, providing a modifiable target for reducing vitamin D deficiency in that population.

Body mass index was an inverse correlate of circulating 25(OH)D in the entire population, which is consistent with previous reports (27, 39). Whether this is due to differences in sun exposure among persons with different body mass indices, increased clearance by a larger body-fat pool, negative feedback from higher circulating 1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D, or sequestration in fat is uncertain (40, 41). Body mass index was not a correlate of 25(OH)D among blacks and Asians in our sample, which is consistent with recent studies (18, 23, 42). Differences in dermal production and sequestration by body fat may provide one explanation (40), but more research on these complex relations is needed.

Dietary vitamin D intake and use of vitamin D-containing multivitamin supplements were strong positive predictors of 25(OH)D concentrations in most subgroups studied, which is consistent with previous studies of vitamin D intake and supplementation (27, 4345). Calcium supplements often contain vitamin D, which probably explains the positive association between calcium intake and circulating 25(OH)D levels, although calcium may also spare conversion of 25(OH)D to 1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D (46). One exception was observed for Asians, among whom calcium and vitamin D intake were inversely related to 25(OH)D levels, for reasons that are unclear. This association may have been driven by different factors among Asians living in China, where supplement use is uncommon and milk is not fortified with vitamin D. Although they were statistically significant predictors, dietary vitamin D intake and total vitamin D intake were relatively weak correlates of circulating 25(OH)D.

Male sex was associated with higher circulating 25(OH)D in the stepwise models and in polytomous regression models, which is consistent with most previous reports (27). This may be due to women's higher percentage of body fat (beyond that measured through body mass index) (15), differences in amount of time spent outdoors, or sun protection behaviors (47).

Other correlates of circulating 25(OH)D concentrations observed in this study have been inconsistently associated with blood 25(OH)D concentrations in the literature. The association of alcohol intake with higher vitamin D concentrations that we observed in this study has not been seen consistently in other reports. In 1 study of elderly Americans, Jacques et al. (11) observed statistically significantly higher 25(OH)D concentrations with greater alcohol intake, but in another study of participants aged 49–75 years in which results were controlled for education and employment status, Egan et al. (6) did not. Current smoking was associated with lower circulating 25(OH)D concentrations in comparison with never smoking, which is consistent with some (2, 6, 13) but not other (10, 11, 15, 48) studies. However, no dose-response association was observed by number of cigarettes smoked per day, and smoking did not remain in the polytomous regression models. Higher 25(OH)D concentrations were observed among persons reporting vigorous physical activity, driven primarily by associations in whites and males. A statistically significant positive association between greater physical activity and 25(OH)D concentrations was observed in only 3 (7, 17, 23) out of 7 (7, 8, 10, 11, 13, 17, 23) studies. Associations with physical activity may be a surrogate for greater sun exposure during outdoor physical activity (25, 49). Finally, a history of diabetes was associated with a significantly lower 25(OH)D concentration, even after controlling for body mass index. Two systematic reviews and meta-analyses have also shown an inverse association between vitamin D status or intake and type 2 diabetes or metabolic syndrome (50, 51), although many of the contributing studies, as in this study, were cross-sectional. This interesting finding merits further investigation.

Strengths of this study include the large sample size and the racial and geographic variability of the population. In addition, all assays were performed in a single laboratory using the same method for all assays within a period of 2–3 months. However, only 4% of the sample was black; thus, more research in this at-risk group is needed. One limitation was that few investigators had collected detailed information on sun exposure, use of sunscreen or protective clothing, skin tone, or sun sensitivity, which probably accounts for a considerable proportion of the unexplained variation (i.e., ~70%) in 25(OH)D concentrations. However, race/ethnicity, physical activity, and season of blood draw served as proxies for skin tone and sun exposure to some degree. Additional research on other sources of interindividual variability, including genetic factors (52), is needed. For pooling of the data across cohorts, the level of detail for each variable was dictated by the cohort with the least detailed information, prohibiting finer examination of some variables, such as total vitamin D intake. Although we were unable to examine the association with individual vitamin D supplements, their use was uncommon (31). We examined correlates of 25(OH)D using a cross-sectional study design. The extent to which modification of these variables would lead to changes in 25(OH)D is uncertain. In general, participants in cohort studies are more educated and of higher socioeconomic status than members of the general population; thus, results from this study are generalizable to similar populations. Even in this large pooled study of data from 10 cohorts, relatively few persons had very high concentrations of vitamin D, limiting investigation of correlates of high concentrations.

Understanding the correlates of vitamin D status has clinical, research, and public health applications. This information can help clinicians identify persons most at risk for vitamin D deficiency, who can then be screened and treated if necessary. As Table 4 shows, blacks, females, the obese, persons with low vitamin D intake, persons who are physically inactive, and persons who are not taking supplemental calcium or multivitamins are much more likely to have very low concentrations of 25(OH)D. Clinicians checking vitamin D concentrations during the winter or spring (e.g., January–June) will be less likely to overlook insufficient or deficient 25(OH)D concentrations.

These same risk factors can also be used to select at-risk individuals for clinical trials, and knowledge of correlates of circulating 25(OH)D also aids in the analysis and interpretation of observational study results. The markedly higher prevalence of very low 25(OH)D concentrations in blacks as compared with whites and among persons living in northern latitudes during less sunny months supports concern about vitamin D status in these populations and its possible impact on health outcomes.


Author affiliations: Epidemiology Research Program, American Cancer Society, Atlanta, Georgia (Marjorie L. McCullough, Victoria L. Stevens, Eric J. Jacobs); Division of Cancer Epidemiology and Genetics, National Cancer Institute, Bethesda, Maryland (Stephanie J. Weinstein, D. Michal Freedman, Mark P. Purdue, Rachael Z. Stolzenberg-Solomon, Kai Yu, Demetrius Albanes, Patricia Hartge); Prevention and Research Center, Weinberg Center for Women's Health and Medicine, Mercy Medical Center, Baltimore, Maryland (Kathy J. Helzlsouer, Lisa Gallicchio); Department of Epidemiology, Bloomberg School of Public Health, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland (Kathy J. Helzlsouer, Lisa Gallicchio); Department of Epidemiology, Rollins School of Public Health, Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia (W. Dana Flanders); Departments of Environmental Medicine and Medicine, School of Medicine, New York University, New York, New York (Karen L. Koenig, Yu Chen, Richard B. Hayes); New York University Cancer Institute, New York, New York (Karen L. Koenig, Yu Chen, Richard B. Hayes); Epidemiology Program, Cancer Research Center, University of Hawaii, Honolulu, Hawaii (Laurence N. Kolonel, Loic Le Marchand); Channing Laboratory, Department of Medicine, Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts (Francine Laden, Susan E. Hankinson); Department of Environmental Health, Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, Massachusetts (Francine Laden); Department of Epidemiology, Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, Massachusetts (Francine Laden, Kimberly Bertrand, Edward Giovannucci, Susan E. Hankinson); Information Management Services, Inc., Silver Spring, Maryland (Kirk Snyder, Jason Ashby); Department of Chronic Disease Prevention, National Institute for Health and Welfare, Helsinki, Finland (Jarmo Virtamo); Division of Epidemiology, Department of Medicine, Vanderbilt Epidemiology Center, Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center, School of Medicine, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tennessee (Gong Yang, Wei Zheng, Hui Cai, Xiao-Ou Shu); Department of Nutrition, Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, Massachusetts (Edward Giovannucci); Scientific Consulting Group, Inc., Gaithersburg, Maryland (Virginia Hartmuller); Division of Cancer Control and Population Sciences, National Cancer Institute, Bethesda, Maryland (Chinonye Harvey); and Heartland Assays, Inc., Ames, Iowa (Ronald L. Horst).

This work was supported by the Extramural Research Program of the National Institutes of Health, Division of Cancer Control and Population Sciences, National Cancer Institute (NCI) (Bethesda, Maryland) and the Intramural Research Program of the National Institutes of Health, Division of Cancer Epidemiology and Genetics, NCI. The New York University Women's Health Study was supported by the NCI (grant R01 CA098661). The Health Professionals Follow-up Study and the Nurses’ Health Study were supported by the NCI (grants P01 CA055075, P01 CA87969, R01 CA49449, and R01 CA082838). The Multiethnic Cohort Study was supported by the NCI (grants R37 CA54281, P01 CA33619, R01 CA063464, and N01-PC35137). The Shanghai Men's Health Study was supported by the NCI (grant R01 CA82729). The Shanghai Women's Health Study was supported by the NCI (grants R37 CA70867 and N02-CP-11010-66). The Prostate, Lung, Colorectal, Ovarian Cancer Screening Trial was supported by contracts from the NCI to the University of Colorado, Denver, Colorado (grant N01-CN-25514); Georgetown University, Washington, DC (grant N01-CN-25522); the Pacific Health Research Institute, Honolulu, Hawaii (grant N01-CN-25515); the Henry Ford Health System, Detroit, Michigan (grant N01-CN-25512); the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, Minnesota (grant N01-CN-25513); Washington University, St. Louis, Missouri (grant NO1-CN-25516); the University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (grant N01-CN-25511); the University of Utah, Salt Lake City, Utah (grant N01-CN-25524); the Marshfield Clinic Research Foundation, Marshfield, Wisconsin (grant N01-CN-25518); the University of Alabama at Birmingham, Birmingham, Alabama (grant NO1-CN-75022); Westat, Inc., Rockville, Maryland (grant N01-CN-25476); and the University of California, Los Angeles, Los Angeles, California (grant NO1-CN-25404). The Alpha-Tocopherol, Beta-Carotene Cancer Prevention Study was supported by funding provided by the Intramural Research Program of the NCI and US Public Health Service contracts (grants N01-CN-45165, N01-RC-45035, and N01-RC-37004). CLUE was supported by the National Institute on Aging (grant U01 AG018033) and the NCI (grant R01 CA105069 and K07 CA73790). The participation of CLUE investigators was also supported by an NCI contract awarded to Mercy Medical Center through the University of Hawaii (Honolulu, Hawaii). The Cancer Prevention Study II Nutrition Cohort was supported by the American Cancer Society (Atlanta, Georgia).

The authors thank Dr. Karen Phinney of the National Institute of Standards and Technology for providing the Vitamin D in Human Serum (SRM 972) used in this work.

This report is based, at least in part, on information provided by the Maryland Cancer Registry, Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

Dr. Ronald L. Horst is the president and chief executive officer of Heartland Assays, Inc. (Ames, Iowa).



Alpha-Tocopherol, Beta-Carotene Cancer Prevention Study
Cancer Prevention Study II Nutrition Cohort
Health Professionals Follow-up Study
Multiethnic Cohort Study
Nurses’ Health Study
New York University Women's Health Study
25-hydroxyvitamin D
Prostate, Lung, Colorectal and Ovarian Cancer Screening Trial
Shanghai Men's Health Study
Shanghai Women's Health Study
Cohort Consortium Vitamin D Pooling Project of Rarer Cancers


1. Holick MF. Sunlight and vitamin D for bone health and prevention of autoimmune diseases, cancers, and cardiovascular disease. Am J Clin Nutr. 2004;80(6 suppl):1678S–1688S. [PubMed]
2. Andersen R, Mølgaard C, Skovgaard LT, et al. Teenage girls and elderly women living in northern Europe have low winter vitamin D status. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2005;59(4):533–541. [PubMed]
3. Brot C, Vestergaard P, Kolthoff N, et al. Vitamin D status and its adequacy in healthy Danish perimenopausal women: relationships to dietary intake, sun exposure and serum parathyroid hormone. Br J Nutr. 2001;86(suppl 1):S97–S103. [PubMed]
4. Brustad M, Alsaker E, Engelsen O, et al. Vitamin D status of middle-aged women at 65–71 degrees N in relation to dietary intake and exposure to ultraviolet radiation. Public Health Nutr. 2004;7(2):327–335. [PubMed]
5. Burgaz A, Akesson A, Oster A, et al. Associations of diet, supplement use, and ultraviolet B radiation exposure with vitamin D status in Swedish women during winter. Am J Clin Nutr. 2007;86(5):1399–1404. [PubMed]
6. Egan KM, Signorello LB, Munro HM, et al. Vitamin D insufficiency among African-Americans in the southeastern United States: implications for cancer disparities (United States) Cancer Causes Control. 2008;19(5):527–535. [PubMed]
7. Holick MF, Siris ES, Binkley N, et al. Prevalence of vitamin D inadequacy among postmenopausal North American women receiving osteoporosis therapy. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2005;90(6):3215–3224. [PubMed]
8. Hill TR, Cotter AA, Mitchell S, et al. Vitamin D status and its determinants in adolescents from the Northern Ireland Young Hearts 2000 cohort. Br J Nutr. 2008;99(5):1061–1067. [PubMed]
9. Hyppönen E, Power C. Hypovitaminosis D in British adults at age 45 y: nationwide cohort study of dietary and lifestyle predictors. Am J Clin Nutr. 2007;85(3):860–868. [PubMed]
10. Jacobs ET, Alberts DS, Foote JA, et al. Vitamin D insufficiency in southern Arizona. Am J Clin Nutr. 2008;87(3):608–613. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
11. Jacques PF, Felson DT, Tucker KL, et al. Plasma 25-hydroxyvitamin D and its determinants in an elderly population sample. Am J Clin Nutr. 1997;66(4):929–936. [PubMed]
12. Lips P, van Ginkel FC, Jongen MJ, et al. Determinants of vitamin D status in patients with hip fracture and in elderly control subjects. Am J Clin Nutr. 1987;46(6):1005–1010. [PubMed]
13. Macdonald HM, Mavroeidi A, Barr RJ, et al. Vitamin D status in postmenopausal women living at higher latitudes in the UK in relation to bone health, overweight, sunlight exposure and dietary vitamin D. Bone. 2008;42(5):996–1003. [PubMed]
14. McNeill G, Vyvyan J, Peace H, et al. Predictors of micronutrient status in men and women over 75 years old living in the community. Br J Nutr. 2002;88(5):555–561. [PubMed]
15. van Dam RM, Snijder MB, Dekker JM, et al. Potentially modifiable determinants of vitamin D status in an older population in the Netherlands: the Hoorn Study. Am J Clin Nutr. 2007;85(3):755–761. [PubMed]
16. van der Meer IM, Boeke AJ, Lips P, et al. Fatty fish and supplements are the greatest modifiable contributors to the serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D concentration in a multiethnic population. Clin Endocrinol (Oxf) 2008;68(3):466–472. [PubMed]
17. Giovannucci E, Liu Y, Rimm EB, et al. Prospective study of predictors of vitamin D status and cancer incidence and mortality in men. J Natl Cancer Inst. 2006;98(7):451–459. [PubMed]
18. Nesby-O'Dell S, Scanlon KS, Cogswell ME, et al. Hypovitaminosis D prevalence and determinants among African American and white women of reproductive age: Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 1988–1994. Am J Clin Nutr. 2002;76(1):187–192. [PubMed]
19. Harris SS, Soteriades E, Coolidge JA, et al. Vitamin D insufficiency and hyperparathyroidism in a low income, multiracial, elderly population. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2000;85(11):4125–4130. [PubMed]
20. Erkal MZ, Wilde J, Bilgin Y, et al. High prevalence of vitamin D deficiency, secondary hyperparathyroidism and generalized bone pain in Turkish immigrants in Germany: identification of risk factors. Osteoporos Int. 2006;17(8):1133–1140. [PubMed]
21. Sowers MR, Wallace RB, Hollis BW, et al. Parameters related to 25-OH-D levels in a population-based study of women. Am J Clin Nutr. 1986;43(4):621–628. [PubMed]
22. Sahota H, Barnett H, Lesosky M, et al. Association of vitamin D related information from a telephone interview with 25-hydroxyvitamin D. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 2008;17(1):232–238. [PubMed]
23. Tseng M, Giri V, Bruner DW, et al. Prevalence and correlates of vitamin D status in African American men. BMC Public Health. 2009;9:191. doi:10.1186/1471-2458-9-191/ [PMC free article] [PubMed]
24. Brock KE, Graubard BI, Fraser DR, et al. Predictors of vitamin D biochemical status in a large sample of middle-aged male smokers in Finland. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2010;64(3):280–288. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
25. Rock CL, Thornquist MD, Kristal AR, et al. Demographic, dietary and lifestyle factors differentially explain variability in serum carotenoids and fat-soluble vitamins: baseline results from the sentinel site of the Olestra Post-Marketing Surveillance Study. J Nutr. 1999;129(4):855–864. [PubMed]
26. Hintzpeter B, Mensink GB, Thierfelder W, et al. Vitamin D status and health correlates among German adults. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2008;62(9):1079–1089. [PubMed]
27. International Agency for Research on Cancer. Vitamin D and Cancer. (IARC Working Group Reports, vol 5) Geneva, Switzerland: WHO Press; 2008.
28. Gallicchio L, Helzlsouer KJ, Chow WH, et al. Circulating 25-hydroxyvitamin D and the risk of rarer cancers: design and methods of the Cohort Consortium Vitamin D Pooling Project of Rarer Cancers. Am J Epidemiol. 2010:172. (1):10–20. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
29. Wagner D, Hanwell HE, Vieth R. An evaluation of automated methods for measurement of serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D. Clin Biochem. 2009;42(15):1549–1556. [PubMed]
30. Willett W, Stampfer MJ. Total energy intake: implications for epidemiologic analyses. Am J Epidemiol. 1986;124(1):17–27. [PubMed]
31. Kaufman DW, Kelly JP, Rosenberg L, et al. Recent patterns of medication use in the ambulatory adult population of the United States: the Slone Survey. JAMA. 2002;287(3):337–344. [PubMed]
32. Looker AC, Dawson-Hughes B, Calvo MS, et al. Serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D status of adolescents and adults in two seasonal subpopulations from NHANES III. Bone. 2002;30(5):771–777. [PubMed]
33. Holick MF. Vitamin D deficiency. N Engl J Med. 2007;357(3):266–281. [PubMed]
34. Holick MF. Vitamin D status: measurement, interpretation, and clinical application. Ann Epidemiol. 2009;19(2):73–78. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
35. Box GEP, Cox DR. An analysis of transformations. J R Stat Soc Ser B. 1964;26(2):211–252.
36. Looker AC, Pfeiffer CM, Lacher DA, et al. Serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D status of the US population: 1988–1994 compared with 2000–2004. Am J Clin Nutr. 2008;88(6):1519–1527. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
37. Hollis BW. Circulating 25-hydroxyvitamin D levels indicative of vitamin D sufficiency: implications for establishing a new effective dietary intake recommendation for vitamin D. J Nutr. 2005;135(2):317–322. [PubMed]
38. Matsuoka LY, Wortsman J, Haddad JG, et al. Racial pigmentation and the cutaneous synthesis of vitamin D. Arch Dermatol. 1991;127(4):536–538. [PubMed]
39. Bolland MJ, Grey AB, Ames RW, et al. The effects of seasonal variation of 25-hydroxyvitamin D and fat mass on a diagnosis of vitamin D sufficiency. Am J Clin Nutr. 2007;86(4):959–964. [PubMed]
40. Looker AC. Do body fat and exercise modulate vitamin D status? Nutr Rev. 2007;65(8):S124–S126. [PubMed]
41. Wortsman J, Matsuoka LY, Chen TC, et al. Decreased bioavailability of vitamin D in obesity. Am J Clin Nutr. 2000;72(3):690–693. [PubMed]
42. Looker AC. Body fat and vitamin D status in black versus white women. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2005;90(2):635–640. [PubMed]
43. Barger-Lux MJ, Heaney RP, Dowell S, et al. Vitamin D and its major metabolites: serum levels after graded oral dosing in healthy men. Osteoporos Int. 1998;8(3):222–230. [PubMed]
44. Lappe JM, Travers-Gustafson D, Davies KM, et al. Vitamin D and calcium supplementation reduces cancer risk: results of a randomized trial. Am J Clin Nutr. 2007;85(6):1586–1591. [PubMed]
45. Cranney A, Horsley T, O'Donnell S, et al. Effectiveness and Safety of Vitamin D in Relation to Bone Health. (Evidence Report/Technology Assessment no. 158) Rockville, MD: Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality; 2007. AHRQ publication no. 07-E013. [PubMed]
46. Heaney RP. Vitamin D and calcium interactions: functional outcomes. Am J Clin Nutr. 2008;88(2):541S–544S. [PubMed]
47. Cardinez CJ, Cokkinides VE, Weinstock MA, et al. Sun protective behaviors and sunburn experiences in parents of youth ages 11 to 18. Prev Med. 2005;41(1):108–117. [PubMed]
48. McKinney K, Breitkopf CR, Berenson AB. Association of race, body fat and season with vitamin D status among young women: a cross-sectional study. Clin Endocrinol (Oxf) 2008;69(4):535–541. [PubMed]
49. Scragg R, Camargo CA., Jr. Frequency of leisure-time physical activity and serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D levels in the US population: results from the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. Am J Epidemiol. 2008;168(6):577–586. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
50. Pittas AG, Dawson-Hughes B, Li T, et al. Vitamin D and calcium intake in relation to type 2 diabetes in women. Diabetes Care. 2006;29(3):650–656. [PubMed]
51. Parker J, Hashmi O, Dutton D, et al. Levels of vitamin D and cardiometabolic disorders: systematic review and meta-analysis. Maturitas. 2010;65(3):225–236. [PubMed]
52. Shea MK, Benjamin EJ, Dupuis J, et al. Genetic and non-genetic correlates of vitamins K and D. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2009;63(4):458–464. [PMC free article] [PubMed]

Articles from American Journal of Epidemiology are provided here courtesy of Oxford University Press