London :Giving women iodine supplements during pregnancy could boost their children’s IQ and also result in cost savings worth millions for the society and health care systems, a new UK study has found.
The new estimates suggest that introducing iodine supplementation in pregnancy in the UK could save the National Health Service (NHS) around 200 pounds per expectant mother and provide monetary benefits to society of around 4500 pounds per child from increased lifetime earnings and lower public sector costs.
With around 1.9 billion people and 241 million school-age children (aged 6-12 years) living in the 32 countries that have iodine deficiency, researchers concluded that universal iodine supplementation during pregnancy could be beneficial.
“Iodine deficiency in pregnancy remains the leading cause of preventable retardation worldwide. Even mild iodine deficiency during pregnancy is associated with children with lower IQs,” said co-author Kate Jolly, professor of Public Health at the University of Birmingham in the UK.
“It’s time for all women living in iodine deficient countries without universal supplementation of iodine, who are pregnant, breastfeeding, or planning a pregnancy to be advised to take a daily supplement containing iodine,” Jolly said.
Iodine is not made naturally in the body and must be consumed by eating foods like dairy and seafood.
Severe iodine deficiency during pregnancy can cause substantial mental impairment and delayed development in children, resulting in a lower IQ and consequently lower educational attainment and earning potential, researchers said.
International health organisations like World Health Organisation and the European Food Safety Authority recommend that pregnant and breastfeeding women take daily iodine supplements.
A team of researchers from the University of Birmingham did a modelling study to examine the cost-effectiveness of iodine supplementation versus no supplementation for pregnant women in the UK.
Using data from a systematic review of published studies, they modelled both the direct health service savings and monetary benefits to society (lifetime earnings) in terms of gains from an additional IQ point in the children.
By converting the effects of iodine supplementation in pregnancy on developing brains into IQ points, the authors estimate that the benefits equate to 1.22 IQ points per child, with monetary benefits of around 199 pounds per expectant mother for the NHS, and 4,476 pounds per pregnancy for society.
“As food fortification alone may not be enough to achieve iodine sufficiency for pregnant women, our results strengthen the case for universal iodine supplementation of all women before and during pregnancy and whilst breastfeeding in mild-to-moderate iodine deficient countries,” researchers said.
The study was published in The Lancet Diabetes and Endocrinology journal.