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Iodine concentrations in urine help researchers identify factors linked to maternal health in Africa

Iodine deficiencies during pregnancy can lead to an array of adverse gestational and birth outcomes. A new study by a Penn State College of Medicine Epidemiology PhD student examines women’s iodine levels and aims to improve maternal health in Africa.

A head-and-shoulders professional photo of Djibril Ba

Dgibril Ba, Epidemiology PhD student

Djibril Ba’s study uses data from 2015 and 2016 Demographic and Health Surveys in Tanzania to compare the urinary iodine concentration, or UIC, levels of nearly 3,000 women.

Without adequate iodine intake, women face a higher risk of developing thyroid problems and experiencing pregnancy-related complications. Since iodine is excreted in people’s urine, UIC tests are easy, cost-efficient ways to gauge iodine consumption and monitor health and thyroid function.

The World Health Organization (WHO) classifies someone as having an iodine deficiency if the person’s median UIC is lower than 100 μg/L. For pregnant women, median UICs should range between 150 to 249 μg/L. In this study, researchers found that the median UICs among women consuming inadequately iodized salt and women in the lowest socioeconomic status fell below these recommendations. Based on these findings, women living in this area could benefit from universal salt iodization.

Results show that expectant women had lower UICs than women who were not pregnant, and breastfeeding mothers had lower UICs than non-breastfeeding mothers. In addition, findings revealed that median UICs varied substantially by region. Several factors may influence the lower levels of UICs in Tanzania, such as poverty, lack of iodized salt, and limited education.

The research, titled Factors Associated with Urinary Iodine Concentration (UIC) among Women of Reproductive Age 20–49 years old in Tanzania: A Population-Based Cross-Sectional Study, was published in May in the journal Current Developments in Nutrition.

In addition to Ba, the study includes Paddy Ssentongo, Kristen H. Kjerulff, Guodong Liu, Ping Du and John P. Richie from the Department of Public Health Sciences at Penn State College of Medicine; Muzi Na and Xiang Gao from the Department of Nutritional Sciences at Penn State; and Won Song from the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition at Michigan State University.

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