Yesterday’s New York Times had an interesting article about how Kazakhstan has been improving its children’s health through the widespread adaptation of iodized salt.
In fact, Kazakhstan has become an example of how even a vast and still-developing nation like this Central Asian country can achieve a remarkable public health success. In 1999, only 29 percent of its households were using iodized salt. Now, 94 percent are. Next year, the United Nations is expected to certify it officially free of iodine deficiency disorders.
That turnabout was not easy. The Kazakh campaign had to overcome widespread suspicion of iodization, common in many places, even though putting iodine in salt, public health experts say, may be the simplest and most cost-effective health measure in the world. Each ton of salt needs about two ounces of potassium iodate, which costs about $1.15.
Worldwide, about two billion people — a third of the globe — get too little iodine, including hundreds of millions in India and China. Studies show that iodine deficiency is the leading preventable cause of mental retardation. Even moderate deficiency, especially in pregnant women and infants, lowers intelligence by 10 to 15 I.Q. points, shaving incalculable potential off a nation’s development.
Tangentially interesting is that most of the salt comes from the dried seabed near Aral—a hugely unintended positive of the sea’s demise under Khrushchev.