Attention to the hiding iodine deficiency in pregnant and lactating women after universal salt iodization: A multi-community study in China

Y Q Yan, Z P Chen, X M Yang, H Liu, J X Zhang, W Zhong, W Yao, J K Zhao, Z Z Zhang, J L Hua, J S Li, X Q Yu, F R Wang
Journal of Endocrinological Investigation 2005, 28 (6): 547-53

BACKGROUND: Monitoring of iodine nutrition depends chiefly on the urinary iodine concentration in representative samples from the population. International groups have recommended school-age children as a convenient group for surveys, because of their accessibility and young age, but the relevance of this group to others, especially pregnant women, is not well established.

OBJECTIVE: The purpose was to compare different approaches to assessing iodine nutrition within communities, especially for pregnant and lactating women.

DESIGN: In an urban and a rural site from each of the 11 Chinese provinces, covering a wide geographic and socioeconomic range, we measured the iodine content of household salt and drinking water, the thyroid volume in school children, and the urinary iodine concentration in five population subsets; in some sites we also assessed iodine in breast milk and thyroid size in adult women.

RESULTS: The median urinary iodine concentrations for pregnant and lactating women were well below those of the schoolchildren from the same community in most study sites, the difference between medians, at overall level, being about 50 microg/l for the pregnant and 40 microg/l for the lactating, respectively. When ranked by median urinary iodine concentrations at overall level, the order of the groups was: all infants, schoolchildren, women of childbearing age, lactating women and pregnant women in both urban and rural sites. This relative distribution was constant among the study sites. From it, we derived a relationship to predict the median values for other groups, based on the data of schoolchildren. The median iodine content of salt was 30.9 ppm in urban sites and 31.3 ppm in rural sites, respectively, close to the nationally mandated 35 mg/kg. Water had low iodine content (3.7 microg/l) in both urban and rural sites except in a rural site from Tianjin. Ultrasonography showed that 6.5% of 1329 children in urban sites and 5.3% of 1431 children in rural sites had thyroid enlargement. Breast milk had a median iodine content of 135.9 microg/l in the urban and 157.5 microg/l in the rural. The goiter prevalence by palpation was low (2.0%) among all women examined (3367), but higher in pregnant women (2.7%) than in lactating women or other adult women.

CONCLUSIONS: An effective iodized salt program has brought iodine sufficiency to most of China, but pregnant women in some areas may still risk deficiency and need further supplements. We suggest other countries and international agencies pay more attention to pregnancy, where iodine deficiency has its worst consequences.

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