Without the right iodine intake in the diets of children and pregnant women, children’s growth and intellectual development can be impaired. Iodine deficiency in pregnant women may cause damage to fetal brain development, miscarriages, and low birth weight.
Global experts are convening in Harbin, China to review China’s successful salt iodisation program. The conference will review current global and national recommendations, discuss issues with USI implementation, methods for surveillance and monitoring, review national statistics on iodine and thyroid disease, and the ongoing reform of the salt industry.
The goal is to achieve consensus on these major issues and recommit to support iodine deficiency prevention and control strategies in China.
Salt iodisation is one of the biggest public health success stories in the last two decades and remains a highly relevant public health intervention. The number of iodine deficient countries has fallen from 110 in 1990 to 25 in 2014. Despite success, globally, about 30% of the world's population still live in areas with iodine deficiency and suffer from related complications.
The World Health Organization recommends that all food-grade salt, used in household and food processing, should be fortified with iodine as a safe and effective strategy for the prevention and control of iodine deficiency disorders. It is effective and costs very little per person. Iodised salt is safe for infants, children and pregnant women.
In the early 1990s, over 700 million people in China were iodine deficient and only 39 per cent of the population was covered by iodised salt. By introducing Universal Salt Iodisation, in just over a decade, 97 per cent of all households in China were consuming iodised salt. In turn, the numbers of cases of iodine deficiency had dramatically been reduced and cognitive development for children has improved along with their overall nutritional status.
China's success can be attributed to its regulatory environment, in particular a consolidated and controlled salt industry, strong political commitment and effective monitoring system. Through engagement with the salt industry, the country has made sure iodized salt is available, with levels of iodine content in the salt monitored and adjusted according to the population's diet so as to protect children and pregnant women who are most at risk of iodine deficiency. Ongoing salt reforms may undermine the success of China’s Universal Salt Iodisation Programme and great care should be taken to ensure that future generations remain protected.
Monitoring is the cornerstone of a successful Universal Salt Iodisation Programme and includes regulatory monitoring to ensure that appropriate levels of iodine are added at production, status monitoring to track sources and intake of iodine, and sub-national monitoring to identify vulnerable groups.
“At this conference we celebrate the incredible achievements that have been made around the world and especially in China. UNICEF believes universal salt iodisation is as important for China today as when the programme started. It is working – it must be continued, and people across China need reliable information as to why – for the health of their family members - they should insist on using iodised salt. UNICEF is committed to continue to work with the Government to maintain China’s success with specific attention to protecting pregnant women and future generations. ” said Rana Flowers, UNICEF Representative to China.