How iodized salt is protecting the health of millions

Salt tends to get a bad rap but it plays a crucial role in reducing iodine deficiency worldwide. A salt iodization support project led by GAIN and UNICEF has helped protect an additional 466 million people against iodine deficiency, including 113 million children.

Iodine deficiency can lead to serious health issues and salt is also one of the only foods that consistently reaches groups with high risk of iodine deficiency, including poor, rural communities. Iodine deficiency during pregnancy can result in stillbirth, spontaneous abortion, and congenital abnormalities such as cretinism, a severe and irreversible mental condition. However, these issues are easily preventable by simply adding iodine to salt – a cheap and effective solution. In addition, adding iodine to salt does not change its color, odor or taste.

The Universal Salt Iodization (USI) Partnership Project ran from 2008 to 2015 in 13 countries with large populations that were not protected against iodine deficiency. A recent report released on the project, based on national surveys show that there was an increase in the availability of adequately iodized salt from 2.27 billion to 2.74 billion people. This includes an estimated 18.2 million pregnant and lactating women, leading to the protection of newborn cognitive health, as well as 113 million children, aged 6 months to 15 years old who are no longer at risk of the debilitating effects of iodine deficiency. At the same time, the coverage of the population with salt containing adequate levels of iodine increased by 466 million people and any iodine increased by 606 million people.

Universal Salt Iodization, which has been implemented around the world, has helped decrease the number of countries classified as ‘iodine deficient’ from 54 in 2003 to 25 in 2015. USI is considered to be achieved if adequately iodized salt is present in over 90 percent of households within a country.

According to Iodine Global Network, over 70% of households worldwide consume iodized salt. Some countries with previously severe iodine deficiency now appear to be virtually sufficient; e.g., China, Nigeria, Congo, Iran, Peru, Ecuador, and Thailand. This success involves the implementation of iodized salt together with effective national programs, the development of national coordinating groups, extensive education at all levels, and monitoring.

GAIN is committed to helping control iodine deficiency globally and to sustaining those efforts and continues to focus on countries where this issue is affecting large parts of the population.


The GAIN Universal Salt Iodization portfolio has been supported primarily by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, with additional contributions via GiveWell, Good Ventures, Goldsmith and numerous individual donors

Learn more about GAIN’s food fortification programs around the world here.


Published 26 April 2016

Return to homepage news