“Want your child healthy and smart? Just consume iodized salt!” Indonesia

Children with iodized salt at a fine-salt boiling manufacturer in West Nusa Tenggara Province, Indonesia.

Children with iodized salt at a fine-salt boiling manufacturer in West Nusa Tenggara Province, Indonesia.

Salt is an incredibly versatile substance.

It comes from the sea and sometimes from deep in the earth. Throughout history, salt routes have crisscrossed the globe and salt has even been used as currency. Salt has been, and still is, highly prized for its abilities to season and preserve food, as well as for its antiseptic benefits to health. And, in many places around the world, salt can also make you smarter.

It’s not the salt that gives you the extra smarts but what’s added to it – the mineral iodine. Adding iodine to salt provides protection from brain damage due to iodine deficiency for whole populations, helping people and countries reach their full potential. Because salt is commonly consumed all over the world, it is an ideal vehicle to carry iodine.

While over 70 percent of the world now consumes iodized salt, there are still gaps and many of those gaps are in the world’s more impoverished areas, including the Indonesia island region of Bima. Generations of families in Bima, Indonesia, have been involved with salt processing, with the region producing salt for surrounding islands as well. But the quality of the salt was often poor and almost none of it was iodized – iodine deficiency disorders were rampant in the area.

A street banner featuring Bima´s Regent H. Ferry Zulkarnain and his wife saying, “Want your child healthy and smart? Don´t consume ‘stupid salt´, just consume iodized salt!”

A street banner featuring Bima’s Regent H. Ferry Zulkarnain and his wife saying, “Want your child healthy and smart? Don’t consume ‘stupid salt’, just consume iodized salt!”

In 2008, the Industry and Trade Office of Bima District and MI worked on a pilot project to develop technology to iodize all raw salt in Bima.

We provided small salt processors with appropriate iodization facilities, iodization equipment and subsidized Potassium Iodate (KIO3) needed for the iodization process. Although iodine deficiency in Bima decreased after these steps, there was still a lot of uniodized or inadequately iodized salt in the marketplace. It was clear that considerable work remained to be done.

To encourage Indonesians to choose iodized salt over non-iodized salt, we collectively came together to make iodized salt a product families would want to purchase.

Rozy Afrail Jafar, MI Indonesia’s National Program Officer for Iodine Deficiency Disorders, his colleagues at MI and partners at UNICEF undertook a new social marketing campaign to brand Indonesia’s iodized salt as “smart salt”, since iodine boots brain development. Messaging also included information about uniodized salt being “stupid salt” and inadequately iodized or falsely labeled salt being “false salt.”

Their creative branding quickly caught on.

A radio campaign using the island’s local language encouraged people in Bima to consume “smart salt” not “stupid salt”, which costs about the same. The term “stupid salt” was also taken up by concerned local authorities. For example, large street banners with a photo of the Regent of Bima’s local government H. Ferry Zulkarnain and his wife were posted with the caption, “Want your child healthy and smart? Don’t consume ‘stupid salt’, just consume iodized salt!”

The “smart salt” activities supported by MI, in cooperation with the Industry and Trade Office of the Bima District, were very effective.

As small salt processors in Bima saw the support iodized salt was receiving, more started the iodization process. This led to increases in production of iodized salt from about 6,000 metric tonnes in 2008 to 25,000 metric tonnes in 2011. Families and parents soon began buying iodized salt in much higher numbers.

To date, MI and UNICEF’s Universal Salt Iodization Program in Bima has helped save 8.5 million people from the risk of iodine deficiency disorders, not only in Bima district and the Nusa Tenggara Barat Province, but also in other neighboring provinces of Bali, Nusa Tenggara Timur, and Maluku.

MI and its partners were able to easily communicate the real attribute of iodized salt: its ability to help reduce preventable brain damage and improve IQs.

By emphasizing these undeniable health benefits for children, Rozy and his partners were able to successfully market the salt to parents and increase their awareness about the health benefits of iodized salt.

Given that all parents want the best for their children’s health, the decision about which salt to buy suddenly became very clear and simple.