Fertility and pregnancy * Babies and children * Young people * Healthy living

70% of UK schoolgirls are "iodine deficient"

70% of UK schoolgirls are  iodine deficient Health risk to them and even their children

Seven out of ten schoolgirls in the Uk are iodine deficient, a study found.

As well causing health problems to the individual, developing foetuses are the most susceptible to lack of iodine, with previous research showing that iodine deficiency can cause significant mental impairment and delayed development in the children of women affected.

In the study, iodine levels were measured in female schoolchildren aged 14–15 years from nine UK centres (Aberdeen, Belfast, Birmingham, Cardiff, Dundee, Exeter, Glasgow, London, and Newcastle-upon-Tyne). This age group was selected as they might eventually become pregnant in the near to mid- term and are therefore the most susceptible to the adverse effects of iodine deficiency.

Concentrations of iodine in tap water in each of the regions studied were also measured as a background control by the researchers, who were lead by Dr Mark P J Vanderpump of the Department of Endocrinology, Royal Free Hampstead NHS Trust.

Results showed that mild iodine deficiency was present in over 50 per cent of the schoolgirls, a further 16 per cent had "moderate" deficiency and another one per cent were classified as "severe".

Belfast had the highest level of children with some form of deficiency (85%) while the three Scottish towns had the lowest at between 52 per cent and 59 per cent.

Levels of iodine in tap water were found to be low and not related to the levels found in the schoolgirls.

One explanation for these results is that most dietary iodine has traditionally come from milk (mainly due to certain farming practices). Milk consumption has dropped over the last 30 years suggesting that this is why the deficiencies are occurring.

To counteract this trend, one expert is calling on the UK to consider adding iodine to salt, a measure that has proven successful in other countries.

Dr Elizabeth N Pearce of the Boston University School of Medicine said that "time is of the essence, because children across the UK are currently being born unprotected from the effects of iodine deficiency. Immediate steps should be taken to protect the most vulnerable members of the population."

She also said that "women who are pregnant, lactating, or planning a pregnancy should be advised to take a daily vitamin containing iodine in the form of potassium iodide."

This article was published on Thu 2 June 2011

Image © sonya etchison - Fotolia.com

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