China introduced a USI policy in 1995 with all edible salt (including table, food, and animal salt) iodized according to a national standard of 35 ± 15 from 2000. Yongning Wu et al. stated that salt contributed 63.5% of food iodine. Salt iodization assures iodine nutrition in China where environmental iodine is widely lacking . In 2012, the Chinese government decided that while USI remains mandatory, provinces may iodize salt to a median within the range of 20–30 mg/kg. The reduction of iodized salt concentration underscores the need to monitor urinary iodine concentration carefully and regularly as an alternative and easy way of assessing iodine intake. This study was an extension of the preventative cross-sectional survey in Zhejiang Province in 2011 and provided a comparison of the difference in iodine nutritional status before and after the implementation of the new iodized salt concentration standard.
The urinary iodine concentration, when carried out with appropriate technology and sampling, is currently the most practical marker for iodine nutrition. Our results indicated that the median urinary iodine concentration of children aged 8–10 years was 174.3 μg/L in the 2013 survey, which was significantly lower than that of 2011 (237.1 μg/L). According to the criteria from WHO/UNICEF/ICCIDD 2007 for assessing iodine nutrition , the median urinary iodine concentration of children aged 8–10 years in 2011 was more than adequate (200–299 μg/L), suggesting that people might be at risk of iodine-induced hyperthyroidism. The iodine nutrition status of people was adequate after the adjustment in standard iodized salt concentration in 2012. The median urinary iodine concentration of children aged 8–10 years in the 2013 survey fell to 100–199 μg/L, suggesting an optimal iodine status and that the government’s decision to reduce the standard salt iodine concentration was a successful policy. In fact, China has made three adjustments since the implementation of USI. The adjustments were based on the iodine nutritional status of people by surveillance carried out every 2 years. Based on the recent surveillance results and risk assessment, the government decided to reduce the standard iodine concentration in 2012. Thus, maintaining USI at an appropriate level is an important part of preventing IDD and could have an important impact on maintaining people’s optimal iodine nutritional status.
The findings from this study also indicate that there were significant differences in median urinary iodine concentration between subjects living in urban and rural areas both in the 2011 and 2013 surveys. The direction of the difference between urban and rural areas were opposite, but the median urinary iodine concentration of the 2013 survey fell to 100–199 μg/L, suggesting an optimal iodine status in both urban areas and rural areas. Despite USI, non-iodized salt is still supplied in some markets. In rural or mountainous areas, with lower economic conditions compared with urban areas, people traditionally consume locally produced coarse salt and low-protein food, which resulted in a lower urinary iodine concentration when compared with people living in urban areas in the 2011 survey. This result was contrasted with previous studies to some extent [15, 16]. In recent years, some concerns about USI have circulated, for instance population trends in thyroid illness [17–19] and misconceptions about the risks posed by the diet of coastal residents, especially in urban areas. Urban residents believe they have sufficient iodine because they have more access to seafood as they live in coastal regions, and thus they prefer non-iodized salt [20, 21]. In addition, many local salt plants produce coarse salt, which results in consumption of non-iodized salt. Further knowledge, attitude, behavior and practice investigations in Zhejiang Province are essential to help in developing effective control measures and in monitoring their implementation. Our data from the 2013 survey indicate that people living in urban areas had a lower urinary iodine concentration than in rural areas, perhaps because of their preference for using non-iodized salt in the last 2 or 3 years.
Our study has some limitations. With spot collection of urine for measuring the urinary iodine concentration, the median of urinary iodine concentration is calculated to estimate the iodine status of a population, but it does not allow forming any conclusions of the iodine levels of a single individual [22, 23]. We present Table 2 of salt iodine concentration of sampling site and urinary iodine concentration of subjects in 2011 and 2013 stratified by 11 administrative divisions for reference. Limited by the sample size and measuring method, for every single administrative division, the median urinary iodine concentration of subjects could not represent the division level. But the table could provide related information of every sampling division to help us to learn broadly the changes before and after the implementation of the new iodized salt concentration standard.
This study has comprehensively compared the iodine nutritional status of a representative sample of 8–10-year-old children in two surveys carried out before and after the implementation of the new iodized salt concentration standard. Overall the median urinary iodine concentration declined between the surveys. At the time the new local iodization policy was implemented, iodine nutrition was generally adequate in both urban and rural areas, suggesting that the new policy for adjusting the standard salt iodine concentration is effective.. Maintaining USI at an appropriate level is an important part of preventing IDD and should always be based on regular monitoring and comparing urinary iodine concentration by province.