Giving all pregnant women iodine supplements, even in mildly iodine deficient countries like the UK, could result in huge cost savings for society, according to researchers.
They estimate that introducing iodine supplementation in pregnancy could save the NHS around £200 per expectant mother and provide monetary benefits to society of around £4,500 per child from increased lifetime earnings and lower public sector costs.
Severe iodine deficiency during pregnancy can cause substantial mental impairment and delayed development in children.
“Iodine deficiency in pregnancy remains the leading cause of preventable retardation worldwide”
The World Health Organization and the European Food Safety Authority recommend that pregnant and breastfeeding women take daily iodine supplements.
However, no recommendation for iodine supplementation has been issued to pregnant women in the UK, even though mild iodine deficiency has been reported to be widespread.
Researchers from the University of Birmingham examined the cost-effectiveness of iodine supplementation versus no supplementation. Using data from a previous review plus expert opinion, they modelled both the direct health service savings and monetary benefits to society in terms of gains from an additional IQ point in the children.
The study authors estimated that the benefits of iodine supplementation equate to 1.22 IQ points per child, with monetary benefits of around £199 per expectant mother for the NHS, and £4,476 per pregnancy for society.
Writing in journal The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology, they said: “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.”
“The time is right for all manufactures to include the recommended level of iodine in their formulae”
Study co-author Professor Kate Jolly noted that iodine deficiency in pregnancy remained the “leading cause of preventable retardation worldwide”.
“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,” she added.
Louise Silverton, director for midwifery at the Royal College of Midwives, said: “The importance of adequate iodine in pregnancy has been known for some time and this study provides additional supportive evidence.
“Midwives advise women on eating well during pregnancy – iodine is found in dairy as well as a variety of seafood – but often intake may be insufficient,” she said.
She added: “Some pregnancy supplements include iodine but the time is right for all manufactures to include the recommended level of iodine in their formulae.”