Iodine Global Network (IGN)

The importance of iodine nutrition

March 2022
Here’s something about iodine nutrition we hoped we would never need to tell you

At IGN, we focus on the importance of protecting children’s developing brains by ensuring adequate iodine status, both during pregnancy and in childhood. We point out the benefits of adequate iodine nutrition for all, from improved performance and attendance at school, to the potential to earn more as adults.

There’s another important element of iodine nutrition that we haven’t needed to talk about for a long time. Last week, the Public Health Board of the European Thyroid Association (ETA) of which IGN’s Regional Coordinator, Dr. Rodrigo Moreno Reyes is a member, issued guidelines on use of potassium iodide (KI) tablets in response to growing public anxiety about the risk of a nuclear emergency.

The ETA statement pointed out that nuclear accidents release radioactive iodine into the atmosphere, which can be absorbed by the thyroid, increasing the risk of developing thyroid cancer. Babies and young children are at the highest risk, along with expectant mothers, who should take a KI tablet when advised to do so by competent authorities. But the statement also draws attention more generally to the importance of adequate iodine nutrition, which can be easily achieved through the consumption of iodized salt.

For many years, IGN and other organizations have pointed out that inadequate iodine intake is a problem in some population groups in many European countries. The EUthyroid Project funded by Horizon Europe noted that due to lack of valid data, they were uncertain about the scale of the problem, but suggested that up to 50% of newborns in Europe are at risk of iodine deficiency. A WHO survey in 1999 identified Europe as having the lowest (27%) coverage of salt iodization of all the WHO regions.

ETA states that “Regarding children, the risk of thyroid cancer may be two to three times higher among those who are iodine deficient as compared to children living in areas where iodine intake is adequate. Optimal iodine intake will not avert the need for KI administration but may to some extent protect those who have not received it.”

In these uncertain times, IGN believes it’s more important than ever to ensure adequate iodine status for everyone in Europe, especially children. We don’t advocate for increasing the amount of salt you use. Just make sure that the salt is iodized.