IODINE deficiency remains common among pregnant women, making awareness of the importance of iodine supplementation a public health priority, Australian experts say.
A cross-sectional study involving 139 pregnant women, who attended antenatal clinics in the Illawarra region in NSW, showed only 14.5% had adequate iodine levels based on urine samples.
The study, conducted in 2008, preceded the introduction of mandatory fortification of bread with iodised salt last year by Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ).
At the time FSANZ warned that, while mandatory iodine fortification would provide sufficient amounts of iodine for most people, pregnant and breastfeeding women may often require an iodine supplement (MO, 9 October 2009).
The authors of the current study said in light of this, the poor level of knowledge about iodine nutrition among participants in the study was concerning.
Most pregnant women in the study were unaware that suboptimal iodine levels could cause a range of adverse health effects, including fetal neurological defects.
Only 11% said they had increased their iodine intake during pregnancy, and half the respondents were unable to identify dietary sources of iodine such as fish and iodised salt.
Despite WHO recommendations to promote public education programs, the authors said there were no strategies to improve the knowledge and awareness of iodine for pregnant women in Australia.
Most women also indicated that they had received substantially less dietary information on iodine (16%) compared with other nutrients (48%-63%).
"This highlights the urgent need for educational strategies specifically targeting healthcare providers to encourage supplementation," the authors said.
The authors said another barrier to iodine supplementation in pregnant women was that the most commonly used multivitamin and mineral supplement in the study, despite being promoted for pregnant women, failed to contain any iodine.
As a result, they called for regulation of specified levels of iodine equivalent to 150 µg/d in supplements marketed to pregnant women.
Nutrition 2010; 26(10):963-68