UNICEF: Iodine deficit threatens 14 percent of world's babies with brain damage

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UNITED NATIONS, March 1 (Xinhua) -- Permanent brain damage and reduced cognitive function threaten nearly 14 percent of the world's babies annually because of a lack of iodine in their earliest years, the UN children's agency (UNICEF) said on Thursday, calling for salt iodization.

More than one in four of these children, or 4.3 million in total, live in South Asia, UNICEF said in a joint report with the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition.

The nutrients a child receives in the earliest years of life influence their brain development for life, and can make or break their chance of a prosperous future, said UNICEF Senior Nutrition Adviser Roland Kupka.

"By protecting and supporting children's development in early life, we are able to achieve immense results for children throughout their lifespan," he said.

Iodine deficiency is a leading cause of preventable brain damage worldwide, the report said. Insufficient iodine during pregnancy and infancy results in neurological and psychological deficits, reducing a child's IQ by eight to 10 points.

It said that such a deficiency translates major losses in the cognitive capital of entire nations and thus their socio-economic development.

Salt iodization is both cost-effective and economically beneficial at only two to five U.S. cents per child annually, the study said. Every dollar spent on salt iodization is estimated to return 30 U.S. dollars through increased future cognitive ability.

The report said that while South Asia is home to the largest proportion of babies at risk globally, the region has the second-highest iodized salt coverage rate at 87 percent of the population, preceded by East Asia and the Pacific at 91 percent coverage.

The lowest coverage with iodized salt was seen in Eastern and Southern Africa, where around 25 percent of the population do not have access to iodized salt, leaving 3.9 million babies every year unprotected against iodine deficiency disorders. Enditem

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