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Essential Micronutrient Widespread Lack of Iodine Threatens Brain Development in Children

Editor: MA Alexander Stark

Scientists fear up to 50 % of all new-borns in Europe do not reach their full cognitive potential due to iodine deficiency. Iodine is a micronutrient critical for children’s brain development.

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Most mothers are unaware of the consequences of low iodine intake on their children.
Most mothers are unaware of the consequences of low iodine intake on their children.
(Source: Pixabay / CC0 )

Greifswald/Germany — With the Krakow Declaration on Iodine presented at the Jagiellonian University, scientists from the EU-funded project Euthyroid, supported by several stakeholder organisations, call on European policy-makers to support measures to eliminate iodine deficiency.

Iodine is an essential micronutrient obtained from the water we drink and the food we eat. It is required for the production of thyroid hormones, which are important regulators of metabolism, growth and development. During pregnancy women have a sharply increased need for iodine, which is frequently insufficient in their regular diets. Even mild iodine deficiency puts their children at risk of impaired neurocognitive function and reduced IQ.

However, most mothers are unaware of the consequences of low iodine intake on their children. Experts now claim that in many European countries with voluntary iodine fortification programmes, up to 50 % of all newborns are exposed to mild iodine deficiency and consequently are at risk of restrictions to their cognitive potential. While moderate decreases in IQ negatively affect individuals, who might experience learning problems and fail to realise their full potential, lower IQ levels on a population level may affect the economic performance of entire nations.

The adverse effects of iodine deficiency are diverse and impose a significant burden on public healthcare systems. Although this fact is well established, in Europe prevention programmes for iodine deficiency disorders (IDD) receive surprisingly little attention from policy makers, opinion leaders and citizens.

Importantly, iodine deficiency could be prevented cost-effectively by the provision of fortified foodstuffs. For years the WHO has called for regular monitoring as an important step towards eliminating iodine deficiency in Europe, yet only eight countries in the EU comply with this minimal step towards tackling iodine deficiency.

On 17 April, 2018 European researchers from 27 countries presented their research on IDDs researched under the umbrella of the Horizon 2020 research and innovation action Euthyroid at a meeting at the Jagiellonian University. They are increasingly concerned about the deteriorating commitment of policymakers to addressing iodine deficiency in Europe. The consortium has therefore initiated a multi-stakeholder approach to call on policymakers, public health officials and scientists to ensure that effective strategies to prevent IDD are implemented across Europe.

They demand:

  • Methods of IDD Prevention: Regulators and policymakers should harmonize obligatory Universal Salt Iodization to ensure free trade of fortified foodstuffs in Europe. Similarly, iodized animal feed requires regulatory approval to ensure free trade within the EU.
  • Control of IDD Prevention: National governments and public health authorities have to perform harmonized monitoring and evaluation of fortification programmes at regular intervals to ensure optimal iodine supply to the population.
  • Support for IDD Prevention: Scientists, together with public-health care workers, patient organizations, industry and the public, should support measures necessary to ensure that IDD prevention programmes are sustainable, as appropriate within a rapidly changing environment and further social awareness of the issue.

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