Survey will check on child iodine levels

Survey will check on child iodine levels

Four hundred primary school-aged children in Tasmania will undertake voluntary tests in the coming months to help determine whether iodine levels in the Tasmanian population are adequate.

The survey is being conducted by the Menzies Institute for Medical Research and funded by the Tasmanian Government through the Department of Health and Human Services.

The Acting Director of Public Health, Dr Mark Veitch, urged schools and parents or carers to encourage children to participate in the survey. 

"The survey will provide us with important information that will help maintain the health of Tasmanians through protecting iodine nutrition," Dr Veitch said.

Children from randomly selected Year 4 classes in 50 Tasmanian State, Catholic and Independent schools across the State will be invited to participate in the survey.  Parents will receive a letter asking them to support the testing, which will be anonymous and confidential.

The researcher leading the survey, Dr Kristen Hynes, said the testing would be done through home urine test kits distributed to students whose parents have given consent for them to take part.

She said results from the survey, called the Tasmanian Urinary Iodine Survey of School Children 2016, would provide important information on the current iodine status of the general Tasmanian population. "We need to ensure that the population is not at risk of becoming deficient in iodine as has happened in the past," Dr Hynes said.

Iodine deficiency is linked to a range of adverse health and developmental outcomes. Research published by Menzies in 2013 showed a link between mild iodine deficiency and poorer educational outcomes, particularly in literacy, in Tasmanian children.

Iodine is an essential nutrient needed in very small amounts for the normal development of the brain and nervous system.  It comes from our food and, in Tasmania, sources of iodine include dairy milk, bread baked with iodised salt and seafood.  The amount in other foods like cereals and vegetables varies depending on where they are grown.

After a long history of iodine deficiency, in 2001 Tasmania became the first state in Australia to work towards improving iodine levels.  The baking industry was asked to replace the salt used in bread making with iodised salt, on a voluntary basis.  To check whether this program was successful at improving population iodine levels, primary school students throughout Tasmania took part in a Urinary Iodine Survey Program from 2003-2007.  In 2009 a program of mandatory use of iodised salt in bread was introduced to assist in increasing iodine intake across Australia.  These programs have successfully improved the status of the population from mild iodine deficiency to sufficiency.

To ensure ongoing iodine sufficiency in the Tasmanian population, in 2011 the DHHS implemented a five-yearly monitoring program. The 2016 survey is the first of those follow-ups.

Photo above: Sandwiches for lunch ... Grade Four children at Montagu Bay Primary School in Hobart will be among those participating in the 2016 iodine survey. The addition of iodised salt in bread has assisted in increasing iodine intake across Australia.

Contact: Miranda Harman

Phone: 0427199562