The State of the World's Children 1998: Focus on Nutrition

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Spotlight: Iodine

 

Impact of deficiency

Iodine deficiency is the single most important cause of preventable brain damage and mental retardation, most of the damage occurring before birth. It also significantly raises the risk of stillbirth and miscarriage for pregnant women.

Who is affected

The successful global campaign to iodize all edible salt is reducing the risk associated with this deficiency, which threatened 1.6 billion people as recently as 1992. Nevertheless, it is estimated that 43 million people worldwide are suffering from varying degrees of brain damage; there are an estimated 11 million overt cretins. Some 760 million people have goitres.

What iodine does

Iodine is needed by the thyroid gland for normal mental and physical development. Most commonly and visibly associated with goitre (a swelling of the neck as the enlarged thyroid works to collect iodine from the blood), iodine deficiency takes a graver toll in impaired mental acuity. Persons suffering from IDD face a range of serious impairments including cretinism, spastic diplegia (a spastic paralysis of the lower limbs) and dwarfism. Less severe deficiencies in both adults and children can mean the loss of 10 to 15 intelligence quotient (IQ) points, as well as impaired physical coordination and lethargy.

Sources

Iodized salt is the best source of iodine. Sea fish and some seaweed also contain iodine, although sea salt does not.

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