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The objective of this paper is to review the global effort to eliminate iodine deficiency and its impact on public health. Iodine is an essential component of hormones produced by the thyroid gland. Iodine deficiency has multiple adverse effects in humans due to inadequate thyroid hormone production that are termed the iodine deficiency disorders. The major adverse effect is impaired cognition in children. The WHO's first estimate of the global prevalence of goitre in 1960 suggested that 20-60 % of the world's population was affected, with most of the burden in low- and middle-income countries. Iodine deficiency was identified as a key global risk factor for impaired child development where the need for intervention was urgent. This spurred a worldwide effort to eliminate iodine deficiency led by a coalition of international organisations working closely with national governments and the salt industry. In most countries, the best strategy to control iodine deficiency is carefully monitored iodisation of salt. The reach of current iodised salt programmes is remarkable: in 2018, 88 % of the global population used iodised salt. The number of countries with adequate iodine intake has nearly doubled over the past 20 years from 67 in 2003 to 118 in 2020. The resulting improvement in cognitive development and future earnings suggests a potential global economic benefit of nearly $33 billion. Iodine programmes are appealing for national governments because the health and economic consequences are high and can be easily averted by salt iodisation, a low-cost and sustainable intervention.

Original publication




Journal article


Proc Nutr Soc

Publication Date





113 - 119


Goitre, Iodine deficiency, Iodised salt, Urinary iodine, Child, Humans, Public Health, Iodine, Sodium Chloride, Dietary, Global Health, Malnutrition