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Michael B Zimmermann and Maria Andersson

Iodine deficiency has multiple adverse effects on growth and development. Diets in many countries cannot provide adequate iodine without iodine fortification of salt. In 2020, 124 countries have legislation for mandatory salt iodization and 21 have legislation allowing voluntary iodization; as a result, 88% of the global population uses iodized salt. For population surveys, the urinary iodine concentration (UIC) should be measured and expressed as the median, in μg/L. The quality of available survey data is high: UIC surveys have been done in 152 out of 194 countries in the past 15 years; in 132 countries the studies were nationally representative. The number of countries with adequate iodine intake has nearly doubled from 67 in 2003 to 118 in 2020. However, 21 countries remain deficient, while 13 countries have excessive intakes, either due to excess groundwater iodine, or over-iodized salt. Iodine programs are reaching the poorest of the poor: of the 15 poorest countries in the world, 10 are iodine sufficient and only three (Burundi, Mozambique and Madagascar) remain mild-to-moderately deficient. Nigeria and India have unstable food systems and millions of malnourished children, but both are iodine sufficient and population coverage with iodized salt is a remarkable 93% in both. Once entrenched, iodine programs are often surprisingly durable even during national crises; for example, war-torn Afghanistan and Yemen are iodine sufficient. However, equity of iodized salt programs within countries remains an important issue. In summary, continued support of iodine programs is needed to sustain these remarkable global achievements, and to reach the remaining iodine-deficient countries.

Open access

Michael B Zimmermann and Maria Andersson

Iodine deficiency has multiple adverse effects on growth and development. Diets in many countries cannot provide adequate iodine without iodine fortification of salt. In 2020, 124 countries have legislation for mandatory salt iodization and 21 have legislation allowing voluntary iodization. As a result, 88% of the global population uses iodized salt. For population surveys, the urinary iodine concentration (UIC) should be measured and expressed as the median, in μg/L. The quality of available survey data is high: UIC surveys have been done in 152 out of 194 countries in the past 15 years; in 132 countries, the studies were nationally representative. The number of countries with adequate iodine intake has nearly doubled from 67 in 2003 to 118 in 2020. However, 21 countries remain deficient, while 13 countries have excessive intakes, either due to excess groundwater iodine, or over-iodized salt. Iodine programs are reaching the poorest of the poor: of the 15 poorest countries in the world, 10 are iodine sufficient and only 3 (Burundi, Mozambique and Madagascar) remain mild-to-moderately deficient. Nigeria and India have unstable food systems and millions of malnourished children, but both are iodine-sufficient and population coverage with iodized salt is a remarkable 93% in both. Once entrenched, iodine programs are often surprisingly durable even during national crises, for example, war-torn Afghanistan and Yemen are iodine-sufficient. However, the equity of iodized salt programs within countries remains an important issue. In summary, continued support of iodine programs is needed to sustain these remarkable global achievements, and to reach the remaining iodine-deficient countries.