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Why India should revisit its food Iodine programme after pandemic

India was one of the first countries in the world to have initiated a salt iodisation programme 1962. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons) (Wikimedia Commons)Premium
India was one of the first countries in the world to have initiated a salt iodisation programme 1962. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons) (Wikimedia Commons)

  • Iodine is a vital micronutrient needed regularly in small quantities for optimal mental and physical development. Iodine deficiency is most damaging during foetal development and the first few years of a child’s life, and can result in stunted growth and mental impairment

NEW DELHI: India's Universal Salt Iodisation (USI) programme is often considered among the most successful public health stories but impact of the covid-19 pandemi has forced authorities and public health experts to revisit strategies.

With the pandemic raging the country for nearly 16 months now, along with other government programmes, salt and iodine schemes too have taken a hit. “There is a need for a national level prevalence survey to estimate iodine content in all Indian foods in all the states," A. Laxmaiah, scientist general & head, Public Health Nutrition, Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) said.

The central government recently shut down the salt commissioner’s office, which officials say will have far-reaching implications on achieving 100% USI coverage.

Iodine deficiency is a leading cause of brain damage, globally. Doctors say that children born in iodine-deficient areas have higher rates of neonatal hypothyroidism, underweight, impaired growth, learning disabilities, mental retardation, psychomotor defects, hearing and speech impairments, and low intelligence quotient. Antenatal iodine deficiency has been linked with adverse birth outcomes including abortion, stillbirth and neonatal death.

India was one of the first countries in the world to have initiated a salt iodisation programme 1962. India Iodine Survey 2018-19, released by Nutrition International, was a nationwide study to estimate the iodine status of the population and assess the extent to which Indian households have access to adequately iodized salt.

The survey, conducted in collaboration with the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, New Delhi, the Association for Indian Coalition for the Control of Iodine Deficiency Disorders, and Kantar, revealed that 76.3% of Indian households consumed adequately iodized salt (or salt with more than or equal to 15 parts per million of iodine) as per World Health Organization guidelines. The results support the need to sustain and step up efforts to achieve Universal Salt Iodization (USI), or 90% of households consuming iodized salt.

Iodine is a vital micronutrient needed regularly in small quantities for optimal mental and physical development. Iodine deficiency is most damaging during foetal development and the first few years of a child’s life, and can result in stunted growth and mental impairment. Children born in iodine deficient areas may have up to 13.5 IQ points less than those born in iodine sufficient areas.

“The job is not done yet and there is a need to continue the programme to achieve 100% coverage of adequately iodized salt. Keeping in mind the modern dietary patterns of average Indian households there is a need to make sure the processed food industry also uses iodized salt," said Rajan Shankar, senior advisor, Tata Trusts.

Rising cases of hypertension in India has drawn the attention of experts worldwide, with the country looking at salt reduction strategies and hypertension. Doctors claim that reducing sodium intake through salt can reduce chances of hypertension by 30%. An average Indian adult consumes about 11 gram of salt per day whereas WHO recommends 5 gm per day. The 30th National Coalition for Sustained Optimal Iodine Intake (NCSOII) hosted by the Association for Indian Coalition for Control of Iodine Deficiency Disorders (ICCIDD) has been attended by various National, International and State level public and private stakeholders including Government agencies, Salt industry, Development agencies and Civil societies etc. The coalition raised several issues regarding the program.

"There is a need for the implementation of low sodium salt interventions at the population scale that include dietary habits, taste, functionality, availability, cost and safety," said Bhawna Sharma, country lead, Resolve to Save Lives.

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