Recent reports of rickets among African American children drew attention to the vitamin D status of these infants and their mothers. African American women are at higher risk of vitamin D deficiency than are white women, but few studies have examined determinants of hypovitaminosis D in this population. We examined the prevalence and determinants of hypovitaminosis D among African American and white women of reproductive age. We examined 1546 African American women and 1426 white women aged 15-49 y who were not pregnant and who participated in the third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (1988-1994). Hypovitaminosis D was defined as a serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D concentration < or =37.5 nmol/L. Multiple logistic regression was used to examine the independent association of dietary, demographic, and behavioral determinants of hypovitaminosis D. The prevalence of hypovitaminosis D was 42.4 +/- 3.1% ( +/- SE) among African Americans and 4.2 +/- 0.7% among whites. Among African Americans, hypovitaminosis D was independently associated with consumption of milk or breakfast cereal <3 times/wk, no use of vitamin D supplements, season, urban residence, low body mass index, and no use of oral contraceptives. Even among 243 African Americans who consumed the adequate intake of vitamin D from supplements (200 IU/d), 28.2 +/- 2.7% had hypovitaminosis D. The high prevalence of hypovitaminosis D among African American women warrants further examination of vitamin D recommendations for these women. The determinants of hypovitaminosis D among women should be considered when these women are advised on dietary intake and supplement use.