Micronutrient deficiencies

Iodine deficiency disorders

A few salient facts

  • Iodine deficiency is one of the main cause of impaired cognitive development in children.
  • The number of countries where iodine deficiency is a public health problem has halved over the past The number of countries where iodine deficiency is a public health problem has halved over the past decade according to a new global report on iodine status.
  • 54 countries are still iodine-deficient.
  • Efforts are required to strengthen sustainable salt iodization programmes.

Iodine deficiency is the world’s most prevalent, yet easily preventable, cause of brain damage. Today we are on the verge of eliminating it – an achievement that will be hailed as a major public health triumph that ranks with getting rid of smallpox and poliomyelitis.

The challenge

Iodine deficiency disorders (IDD), which can start before birth, jeopardize children’s mental health and often their very survival. Serious iodine deficiency during pregnancy can result in stillbirth, spontaneous abortion, and congenital abnormalities such as cretinism, a grave, irreversible form of mental retardation that affects people living in iodine-deficient areas of Africa and Asia. However, of far greater significance is IDD’s less visible, yet pervasive, mental impairment that reduces intellectual capacity at home, in school and at work.

The response: iodized salt

A spectacularly simple, universally effective, wildly attractive and incredibly cheap technical weapon – that's iodized salt!

Iodine deficiency disorders

Less than 20 years ago, few people realized the magnitude of the problem, let alone foresaw the solution. Since the 1980s, WHO has been at the forefront of a worldwide public health drive to eliminate this under-publicized yet devastating deficiency. The Organization provides both technical tools – scientifically sound standards, guidelines and methodologies – and technical guidance to build up national salt iodization programmes.

Partnerships have been crucial to turning the tide against IDD. Alliances with UNICEF, ICCIDD (International Council for Control of Iodine Deficiency Disorders), international and bilateral agencies and the salt industry have helped countries set up permanent national salt iodization programmes.

Iodine deficiency disorders
Iodizing table salt is one of the best and least expensive methods of preventing IDD. The target is the elimination of IDD through universal salt iodization.

Progress has been dramatic since the primary intervention strategy for IDD control – universal salt iodization – was adopted in 1993. Salt was chosen because it is widely available and consumed in regular amounts throughout the year, and because the cost of iodizing it is extremely low – only about US$ 0.05 per person per year.

This strategy has been implemented in most countries where iodine deficiency is a public health problem. Globally, UNICEF estimates that 66% of households now have access to iodized salt.