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Study prompts call to add iodine to all salt -

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KERRY O'BRIEN: For years we've been told that too much salt is bad for us, and that is true. But
now there's a new public health campaign about how a certain type of salt is essential, especially
for children. Iodine is a naturally occurring element that's needed for the development of the
brain; without it, humans can suffer low IQ, stunted growth or goitres. While Australia has never
known such extremes, a national study has shown an alarming drop in iodine levels amongst children.
The survey has strengthened the push to make it mandatory for all salt to be mixed with iodine. At
the moment, it's estimated, 80 per cent of salt intake is from processed food that doesn't use
iodised salt. Mike Sexton reports.

MIKE SEXTON: Like every mother, Prunella Haithwait hoped for a healthy baby. But during her
pregnancy, doctors discovered she was low in iodine, a condition that threatened the mental and
physical development of her unborn child. Iodine is a natural element that is essential for the
thyroid gland, which controls the body's metabolism and the growth of the brain.

with very high dose supplements of iodine, which restored normal thyroid function and decreased the
size of the thyroid gland, and she's had a successful outcome.

MIKE SEXTON: While Prunella Haithwait now has a healthy eight-month-old daughter, this case
contrasts dramatically with the ones Professor Eastman sees during his regular visits to Tibet and
China. In both places there is very little iodine in the soil, and so it doesn't make its way up to
the food chain to humans. Those with very low levels of iodine suffer a condition known as

CRESWELL EASTMAN: That child will be deaf, will be mute, will have paralysis, will be grossly
mentally retarded and will also be much smaller than average in terms of physical size. So that's
what a cretin is, and that's the most obvious, severe consequence of severe iodine deficiency
occurring in a pregnant woman.

MIKE SEXTON: Back in Australia, Professor Eastman doesn't see anything like the problems of Tibet
or China, but a recent nationwide survey showed high levels of iodine deficiency in school
children, especially in New South Wales and Victoria. Fifty per cent of children examined were
iodine deficient - evidence that, Professor Eastman believes, deserves an urgent response.

CRESWELL EASTMAN: If we don't address this in Australia then we are likely to see a lot of children
born in coming years that have lower IQs, have problems with hearing, have great learning
difficulties and they are less likely to fulfil their genetic potential.

MIKE SEXTON: One reason Australians are losing iodine is because of changes in the dairy industry.
Previously iodine was used for cleaning in milking sheds, so a kind of accidental contamination
took place, but now it's been cut off because iodine is being replaced with new cleaning agents. A
person needs about one teaspoon of iodine in a lifetime to avoid health problems, but the body
can't stockpile the element, which is why pregnant women are encouraged to adjust their diet to
foods that contain higher amounts of iodine.

PAULA NASH, DIETETICIAN: The best source of iodine is from seafood. There's also reasonable
quantities of iodine in animal products, such as milk, yoghurt, eggs and meat, with smaller amounts
present in plant foods.

MIKE SEXTON: Hobart is one place where the problem is being tackled head-on. Tasmania has always
had low iodine levels because of its geography and weather, and five years ago health authorities
took the lead by asking bakers to use salt that had been mixed with iodine in their bread.

JUDY SEAL, TASMANIA HEALTH DEPT: There were a number of reasons bread was a good option. The main
one is that it's a healthy food that's widely consumed by a high proportion of the population.

MIKE SEXTON: The result has been spectacular, with a recently published report showing a
significant improvement in iodine levels. The success of the program is prompting a push to have
iodised salt also used in biscuits and breakfast cereals.

JUDY SEAL: We think that bread alone as the carrier is probably not quite enough. We would like to
see a little bit more iodine in the food supply, so if we were to switch to all salt used in food
manufacturing in Australia being iodised we could actually probably make a fairly significant
improvement in the iodine status.

MIKE SEXTON: Those advocating iodised salt are quick to point out they aren't endorsing extra salt
being added to food, merely switching to iodised salt. Food Standards Australia New Zealand is
preparing a report for the food regulation ministerial council that will likely recommend the
mandatory use of iodised salt in bread and breakfast cereal but not biscuits, but the time it is
taking is frustrating Creswell Eastman.

CRESWELL EASTMAN: I can only speculate on why this has taken so long and I am told there is
resistance within the food industry, some food manufacturers, because of costs and inconvenience
and problems with exports. That's what I understand, but I think we can't accept that. There are
too many children being born in Australia that aren't protected at the moment. So, the longer we go
on, the more babies will be at risk.

MIKE SEXTON: The Australian Food and Grocery Council declined to be interviewed for this story, but
says it supports consumer choice and therefore the voluntary fortification of food with iodine, but
Professor Eastman believes without mandatory iodisation of salt he will be seeing more and more
patients for a condition he shouldn't have to deal with.

CRESWELL EASTMAN: This is not rocket science. It is a very simple way of overcoming a problem and
it can be done so easily and if 100 countries in the world have been able to do this and over 100
now have done it, why can't Australia do it?