Iodine Nutrition: Much Progress but More to Do

New global estimates of iodine status highlights huge improvements in past decade but gaps remain

n Senegal, MI works with small-scale salt producers to not only help with iodization but also help them improve the quality of their salt, using equipment like this mobile iodization machine.

In Senegal, MI works with small-scale salt producers to not only help with iodization but also help them improve the quality of their salt, using equipment like this mobile iodization machine.

OTTAWA – The Micronutrient Initiative welcomes a new analysis of iodine nutrition around the world. Published in the Journal of Nutrition(jn.111.149393), the analysis by Maria Anderson, Vallikannu Karumbunathan and Michael B. Zimmermann highlights the progress that has been made in controlling iodine deficiency through salt iodization and emphasizes the need to continue with efforts to close the remaining gaps.

Iodine is required for the brain development of fetuses, infants and young children. Using salt, a universally-consumed condiment, as a vehicle for delivering iodine is seen as the world´s most successful food fortification initiative. Salt iodization reduces iodine deficiency – improving cognitive development and learning potential. The analysis in the Journal of Nutrition states that global iodine nutrition has markedly improved over the past decade, with a decreasing number of countries considered “iodine deficient”. Eighteen additional countries have become iodine sufficient since 2003. Thirty-two countries are still considered iodine deficient.

“This analysis shows that amazing progress that has been made to what was thought of twenty years ago as an intractable problem,” says Venkatesh Mannar, President of the Micronutrient Initiative. “It is a demonstration of what can be achieved with strong support from donors and coordinated efforts at the country level between government, development agencies, the health sector and the salt industry.”

Canada, through the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), has been one of the leading supporters of Universal Salt Iodization programming around the world, supporting organizations such as the Micronutrient Initiative, the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition, UNICEF and the World Food Programme in their iodization efforts.

“Canada´s support to Universal Salt Iodization has protected millions against preventable brain damage,” continues Mannar. “We cannot let these efforts slip. We must continue our work to reach the last one-third of the global population still not receiving adequate iodine, arguably the most vulnerable among us.”

Despite progress, especially in Europe, the Eastern Mediterranean region, Southeast Asia and the western Pacific region, there is still close to 30% of the global population that is still lacking sufficient iodine in their diet to achieve Universal Salt Iodization. There has been negligible progress in Africa: since 2003, the number of School Age Children with insufficient intake of iodine in Africa has increased by about 20%, from 50 to 58 million. Mannar notes that new country information from countries such as Pakistan might reveal that even more progress has been made in household iodized salt consumption.

Mannar agrees with the authors´ conclusions that it will take strengthened coalitions at the national level to reach the last 30% of people still not benefitting from adequate iodine consumption, in addition to continued support from donors internationally. As well as its country programs, the Micronutrient Initiative works on advocacy at the international level through the Network for the Sustained Elimination of Iodine Deficiency (The Iodine Network), alongside senior level representatives from development agencies, academics, researchers and industry representatives. The Iodine Network works on issues such as a unified position between sodium intake and salt iodization and the use of iodized salt in processed foods.

View the Abstract in the Journal of Nutrition.