Iodine deficiency is especially serious for pregnant women and young children. During pregnancy, even milder deficiencies can retard fetal development and result in physical and mental retardations, as devastating as a severe and irreversible condition known as cretinism. The International Council for the Control of IDD (ICCIDD), the World Health Organisation (WHO) and UNICEF, united in the Iodine Global Network, have devoted strong efforts to diminish IDD. Quoting WHO: “Iodine deficiency is the world’s most prevalent, yet easily preventable, cause of brain damage.”


Iodine deficiencies involve at least two billion people worldwide, being the most preventable cause of mental retardation. Iodine deficiency can be determined from the content of Iodine in urine. FAO statistics consider school-aged children (6-12 yr) iodine-deficient when their urinary iodine is below 100 ug/litre. The recommended daily iodine intake in human depends on the age, gender, pregnancy and nursing conditions in women, ranging from 50 µg to 250 µg per day. The intake of iodine in the daily diet of on average more than 30% of school-aged children worldwide is not sufficient, and this has clinical consequences: Goitre (an enlarged thyroid gland) or cretinism (severe mental and physical retardation due to poor development of the fetus during pregnancy) are the most common clinical manifestation when iodine deficiency is severe. However, mild deficiencies can affect the whole community when they are the cause of subclinical disorders manifested as retarded growth, impaired mental function, and decreased rate of metabolism (people become slow and lethargic).


Recommended iodine intake
UNICEF, IGN (former ICCIDD) and WHO recommend that the daily intake of iodine should be as follows:
• 90 μg for preschool children (0 to 59 months);
• 120 μg for schoolchildren (6 to 12 years);
• 150 μg for adolescents (above 12 years) and adults;
• 250 μg for pregnant and lactating women.
Tolerable upper intake level for iodine (micrograms per day)

Life-stage group SCF, European Commission Life-stage group U.S. Institute of Medicine
1–3 yr 200 1–3 yr 200
4–6 yr 250 4–8 yr 300
7–10 yr 300 9–13 yr 600
11–14 yr 450 14–18 yr 900
15–17 yr 500    
Adult 600 Adult 1100
Pregnant and lactating women 600 Pregnant and lactating women 1100
Assessment of iodine deficiency disorders and monitoring their elimination. WHO/UNICEF/ICCIDD. Geneva, 2007.
Dietary Reference Intakes for Vitamin A, Vitamin K, Arsenic, Boron, Chromium, Copper, Iodine, Iron, Manganese, Molybdenum, Nickel, Silicon, Vanadium and Zinc. The U.S. Food and Nutrition Board, Institute of Medicine, National Academy of Sciences. Washington DC, 2000.
More detailed information can be found on the website of the IGN (formerly ICCIDD Global Network) 


The amount of iodine that is consumed varies between geographic areas, and is influenced by local eating habits. Government driven health regulations can promote the addition of potassium iodate or potassium iodide to commercially available table salt. For acute treatments of deficiencies diagnosed by physicians, iodized oil capsules are prescribed during short periods. Iodine can be added to the plant nutrition of locally grown crops. This is called agronomic biofortification. It is proposed as a promising new development to remedy iodine deficiency of people on low-salt diets, or people living in areas with poor access to iodized table salt.


Iodine Deficiency among School-Aged Children