The health of potential baby-carriers

A new study, recently published in the Lancet, has been making headlines with the startling finding that up to 70% of teenage girls in the UK are iodine deficient. Hmmm. Young women. Health issue. Yes, you can guess what’s coming. Here are some headlines:

Intelligence of future generations at risk’ (The Scotsman)

‘Babies at risk as girls fail to get enough iodine’ (The Independent)

‘Girls’ lack of iodine could harm babies’ (Daily Mail — always a classic)

It’s true that, should these women at some point decide to become pregnant and have babies, their iodine deficiency could be harmful to their pregnancies and harmful to the resulting babies. But these women’s iodine deficiency is also harmful to them. Now. Whether or not they ever have babies.

<post descends into unintelligible grumbles>

11 thoughts on “The health of potential baby-carriers

  1. Apparently at some point many countries decided to put iodine in a common food stuff, salt. The UK declined that option.

  2. Is an iodine deficiency harmful to the teenage girls themselves? This also appeared in the article:

    “The deficiency may not affect a girl’s own health, but can stunt the intelligence of any children she has.”

    In fact, that is why the study focused on females even though both male and female populations are likely deficient in the compound.

  3. Iodine deficiency can lead to thyroid problems. I’d assume (although I’m not a medical person), that a teenage deficiency might be problematic to the teenager because even if it is not currently causing her/him problems, the deficiency might increase to the point where it does.

  4. A quite googling suggests this: iodine is needed for the thyroid to function propertyl Without it you get hypothroid-whatever and goiters. So ignoring men and focusing on childbearing in women does seem to come from a fairly selective concern.

    Mind you, as far as I can see, while the effects of a deficiency on men and women are not good, the effects on a fetus can be devastating.

  5. There’s also evidence linking iodine deficiency with a significantly greater risk for thyroid cancer, though more research is needed. According to emedcine.com:

    “Whether iodine deficiency causes an increased risk for thyroid cancer is unclear, but a higher proportion of more aggressive thyroid cancers (ie, follicular thyroid carcinoma) and an increased thyroid cancer mortality rate are found in areas where iodine deficiency is endemic”

  6. Here is one place where a disability studies perspective would be welcomed. The discussion, which focuses primarily on implications of this for women, could be tied to, and draw from, the work of disability studies scholars on the ideology of “healthy babies” such as our critiques of the idea of procreative beneficence, selctive abortion, etc.

  7. Isn’t this the way it goes with all our foods. The more technologically advanced we become, the less nutrients can be found in our food? It’s a sad story, but I believe it all has to start with our politicians regulating how we produce our food.

  8. From a public health point of view, a preoccupation with looking at this issue from the “potential baby-carrier” angle doesn’t seem unreasonable. Everyone needs iodine for good health, but it does seem to be the case that the effects of maternal hypothyroidism are many times worse for the next generation (which will of course be composed of both women and men) than for the mother. If you have iodine deficiency in your teenage years, it’s generally treatable and usually not too serious for you individually (especially if treated).* If your MOTHER had iodine deficiency, you are much more likely to have serious and irreversible problems. Since the most serious public health threat posed by iodine deficiency in a population is its delayed and magnified effect on the next generation, of course it makes sense to study young women here (from whose ranks the next generation will be coming, regardless of whether or not they all choose to have babies). No need to read into this an affront to the young women who were the subject of the study.

    *Trust me, I’m a doctor. (Not in any health-related field, but that’s just a technicality…)

  9. Hi Nemo,

    What’s striking, though, is that in the academic presentation and follow-up discussion of the results of this study, consideration was given *both* to the impact iodine deficiency might have on the women themselves and the impact it might have on whatever children these women choose to have. But in popular media (not across the board, but in some notable cases such as the ones I linked to), we simply get alarm cries of “oh no, possible babies in trouble!” That’s what’s objectionable.

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