PREGNANT women are not getting enough information about the need for iodine in their diets, despite evidence that a deficiency can lead to lower IQs among children, according to new Scottish research.
A Glasgow University survey found that while 96% of pregnant women were aware of general nutritional recommendations for pregnant women, only 12% were aware of specific advice about iodine which is rich in dairy products and seafood and can be taken through supplements.
The study estimated that the median intake of iodine during pregnancy across the UK was 190 micrograms per day, with 74% consuming less than the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommended intake of 250 micrograms daily.
Dr Emilie Combet, who led the research, said a deficiency could mean the difference between a child being a high-achiever and being middle of the road and between a pupil being an average student or a poor one.
Iodine is required for the production of thyroid hormones, which are crucial for foetal development and linked to developmental impairments.
Combet said: “Women aren’t receiving the message about the importance of iodine in pregnancy, meaning they cannot make informed choices to ensure they get the amount they require.”
Iodine deficiency affects 1.9bn people globally and is the most preventable cause of intellectual disability. The UK is ranked eighth in a list of iodine-deficient countries in the world, fuelling calls for iodine to be added to salt or bread as it is in some other countries.
At present there is no recommendation for routine iodine supplementation in the UK unlike folic acid and vitamin D, or for routine testing in pregnancy that would reflect iodine levels, as there is with iron.
The study surveyed 1,026 women across the UK who were pregnant or mothers of children aged up to 36 months. Knowledge of foods containing iodine was low, with 56% unable to identify any iodine-rich items and the majority wrongfully believing dark green vegetables and table salt had high levels.
Most, 84%, were unaware that iodine from diet is important for the healthy development of the unborn baby, and only 11% had heard about iodine from a healthcare professional.
Combet said: “Iodine is crucial during pregnancy and the first months of life, to ensure adequate brain development, but achieving over 200 micrograms a day of iodine through diet requires regular consumption of iodine-rich foods such as milk and sea fish. Not everyone will have the knowledge, means or opportunity to achieve this.
“Iodine-fortified salt is common in other countries, but using salt as the delivery method has raised concerns since it is perceived to clash with public health messaging around reducing salt intake to combat high blood pressure. However, other countries have demonstrated that both measures could be held simultaneously. We need to work towards a solution.”