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The battle to end iodine deficiency disorders.

Although the cure is known, iodine deficiency disorders continue to threaten people around the globe, many of them children.

Present generations of Americans have been spared the misery of the affliction, but 70 years ago, swellings on the throat, or goiters, were a common sight across the United States in thousands of people--as well as in pets and livestock. In some areas, 75 percent of teenage girls had goiters, and records from World War I reveal that goiter was the single most common reason for disqualification of young men from the Army. But the diligent efforts of medical researchers and the addition of iodine to the nation's table salt at no extra cost by the Morton Salt Company helped make iodine deficiency disorders (IDD) virtually disappear from the United States by 1951.

In the rest of the world, however, IDD continues

And the numbers are alarming. Over 1.6 billion people in 118 countries around the globe are at risk of iodine deficiency, according to the latest statistics from the World Health Organization (WHO). In Africa and India, entire populations are at risk. In China alone, 500 million people suffer from iodine deficiency. China's Public Health Ministry estimates that more than 10 million cases of mental retardation in inland villages and cities across the nation are related to iodine deficiencies, including hundreds of thousands of cretins who suffer the worst physical and mental handicaps.

Iodine is a micronutrient, necessary for the production of thyroid hormones that are essential for normal growth and development, especially of the brain and nervous system. When iodine is missing from the diet, the body's thyroid gland enlarges in an attempt to step up production of the hormones, resulting in an unsightly goiter. While mild deficiency of iodine may make one sluggish, with reduced mental capacity, severe deficiency can result in mental retardation, stunted physical growth and development, deafness, paralysis, congenital anomalies, and possibly death. It is estimated that each year, IDD in pregnant women from Albania to Zaire is responsible for at least 6O,000 miscarriages or stillbirths, and over 12O,000 cases of cretinism.

The solution? For just five cents per person per year, we can achieve universal salt iodization and eliminate IDD from the globe.

"Simple goiter is the easiest of all known diseases to prevent," David Marine stated in 1923. "It may be excluded from the list of human diseases as soon as society determines to make the effort."

The effort is under way.

Through its worldwide network of more than 8,000 clubs, Kiwanis International has pledged to raise $75 million to help tackle the global problem in partnership with UNICEF. Kiwanis is being assisted by its sponsored youth groups-- Builders Clubs in junior high and middle schools, Key Clubs in high schools, and Circle K clubs in colleges and universities.

The Children's Better Health Institute and The Saturday Evening Post Society are partnering with Kiwanis clubs to help expedite the effort.

Overcoming IDD by the year 2000 is a tremendous undertaking, requiring concerted efforts on medical, social, and political levels, as well as funding to implement the changes.

In a joint effort with Morton Salt Company, Kiwanis clubs throughout the country are distributing canisters to be placed at checkout counters everywhere. The canisters carry the familiar Morton Salt girl ("When It Rains It Pours") and Kiwanis logos. While the Morton Salt Company has donated $500,000 to this project, there are, of course, not enough canisters to reach every community that might want to help.

If your local Kiwanis club doesn't have a supply of canisters, call the club and tell them you'd like to volunteer by placing homemade collection canisters made from Morton Salt cans with slits in the top for coin collection. With the help of your local Kiwanis leaders, you can volunteer to distribute the boxes to your favorite grocery store, drugstore, church, restaurant, or laundromat. Ask merchants for permission to display the collection boxes at their checkout counters.

The Saturday Evening Post will supply extra copies of our articles on iodine deficiency, as well as canister bands (on page 47) should you need them for your local schools or civic meetings. Church missionary groups are well aware of the problems caused in underdeveloped countries by lack of iodine in the diet.

If you would like more information about iodine deficiency disorders and how you can support the Kiwanis campaign, write to the Worldwide Service Project, Kiwanis International, 3636 Woodview Trace, Indianapolis, IN 46268.
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Author:Perry, Patrick
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Date:May 1, 1997
Previous Article:Please pass the iodine! How a brilliant biologist, a group of schoolchildren, and a school of baby trout shrank America's goiter problem down to size.
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