Iodine deficiency in Europe and its consequences: an update
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This paper updates the information on the prevalence of the disorders induced by iodine deficiency (IDD) in Europe. Thirty-two European countries were still affected by mild to severe iodine deficiency in the late 1990s. The most severely affected countries were in Eastern Europe, including Central Asia, but Western Europe was also still affected. National surveys recently conducted in 11 of these countries show that, with the exception of the Netherlands, none has yet reached a state of iodine sufficiency, though very significant improvement in the situation has been evidenced in many of them, e.g. Poland, Bulgaria and Macedonia. The consequences of persisting iodine deficiency are goitre, hyperavidity of the thyroid for iodide (which increases the risk of thyroid irradiation in the event of a nuclear accident) and subclinical hypothyroidism during pregnancy and early infant (with a concomitant risk of minor brain damage and irreversible impairment of the neuropsychointellectual development of offspring). Access to iodised salt at the household level in European countries affected by IDD increased from 5%–10% in 1990 to 28% in 1999. This constitutes encouraging progress. However, in terms of access of iodine-deficient countries to iodised salt, Europe remains the worst region in the world, as shown by the fact that the mean figure worldwide in 1999 was 68%. In Latin America it even reached 90%. Salt iodisation has to be further implemented in Europe. Until that goal is achieved, iodine supplementation in those groups most sensitive to the effects of iodine deficiency (pregnant and lactating women and young infants) will have to be considered in the most severely affected areas.