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Why is salt iodized?

In order to survive as humans, we require certain inputs from our natural environment. Water and oxygen come to mind. Since we have no innate biological process by which to create these substances, we must rely on our environment to provide them.

Did you know that we have the same critical reliance on molybdenum? Or retinol? Or folate? It’s a biological truth.

These arcane substances, called micronutrients, are essential in the diet of a healthy human. However, the amount you need of these substances is exceedingly small. For example, the average human body contains .07 mg of molybdenum per kilogram. So, the average human male is carting around 5.6 grams of molybdenum, or just shy of the weight of a standard pencil.

Humans that don’t get enough of these micronutrients — e.g. iron, cobalt, chromium, copper, iodine, manganese, selenium, zinc, molybdenum, vitamin a — do not grow or develop properly. Moreover, many people who fill their stomachs daily with food, still suffer from lack of micronutrients because the food they eat is nutrient-poor. They may be full, but their bodies are still hungry…a hidden hunger.

There’s nothing micro about the effects of micronutrient deficiencies. While there are many statistics on the subject, USAID notes that over one million children die yearly due to Vitamin A and Zinc deficiencies.

Micronutrients. Macro-affect.

Which brings us to the question, Why is salt iodized? The Lancet Medical journal asserts that in communities where iodine intake is sufficient, the average IQ is 13 points higher than iodine-deficient communities. Iodine, it turns out, is critical to fetal cognitive development.

An Asia Development Bank report notes, “correcting iodine, vitamin A, and iron deficiencies can improve the population-wide intelligence quotient by 10-15 points, reduce maternal deaths by one fourth, decrease infant and child mortality by 40 percent, and increase people’s work capacity by almost half. The elimination of these deficiencies will reduce health care and education costs, improve work capacity and productivity, and accelerate equitable economic growth and national development.”

Read that again. Those numbers are huge. The impact affects all of humanity.

Micronutrient deficiency in communities across the globe guarantees a tragic ripple effect of reduced cognitive capacity, impaired physical development and, ultimately, a handicapping of our shared human potential.

Providing iodized salt in iodine-deficient communities is critical to shared human prosperity. The same goes for disseminating Vitamin A, zinc, folate and other micronutrients to communities that need them — whether they are aware of this hidden hunger or not.

Micronutrients are not expensive commodities. The cost of salt iodization is five cents a year. Vitamin A capsules are 2 cents each. In fact, USAID asserted that vitamin A and zinc supplementation for children would have a huge economic return: in their estimate, an annual investment of $60 million would yield benefits of up to $1 billion.

In May 2008, the Copenhagen Consensus panel considered 30 development options and ranked provision of micronutrients as the world’s best investment for development.

You can help by spreading the word about micronutrients and supporting the Micronutrient Initiative. You can also help by buying 2 Degrees. Many of the meals that 2 Degrees donates are fortified with micronutrients, such as the Ready to Use Therapeutic packs that we donate in Malawi.

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