Women lacking vital nutrients


Women of childbearing age (16-44 years) get enough folate but not enough iodine, according to figures released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) today.

Dr Paul Jelfs, head of the Social, Health and Labour Division at the ABS, said the second release of results from the groundbreaking biomedical collection in the Australian Health Survey revealed that many Australian women are not getting some of the key nutrients they need in order to best prepare for pregnancy.

"We know that iodine, for example, is an essential nutrient required for a baby's brain development. Our test results showed that around one in every five (18 per cent) women of childbearing age had an iodine deficiency (defined as less 50 µg/L) and nearly two thirds (62 per cent) had an iodine level less than 150 µg/L, which is the recommended level for all women who are pregnant, breastfeeding or considering pregnancy." said Dr Jelfs.

The survey did show that women of childbearing years were receiving enough folate, which is important for preventing neural tube defects (NTDs) in babies, most notably spina bifida.

"The good news is that the vast majority of women of childbearing age had sufficient folate levels in 2011–12, with less than one per cent having folate levels in the at risk range of NTDs," said Dr Jelfs.

In other news, the survey also showed that for all Australians, there was considerable variation in iodine levels across the States and Territories.

"Historically, iodine levels have been highest in Western Australia, where the soil is rich in nutrients. Our test results showed that this was still clearly the case, with West Australian adults having the highest median iodine concentration of all the States and Territories at 157.4 ug/L. This was also was considerably higher than the national average (124.0 ug/L).

"Tasmania, on the other hand, had the lowest median iodine concentration at 108.0 ug/L. They also had the highest rate of iodine deficiency at 15 per cent. This places them at higher risk of a range of health conditions, including goiter and an underactive thyroid," said Dr Jelfs.

Further information is available in Australian Health Survey: Biomedical Results for Nutrients (cat. no. 4364.0.55.006) available for free download from the ABS website.

Media notes

  • The World Health Organization (WHO) considers a population iodine deficient if the median urinary iodine concentration is less than 50 ug/L.
  • When reporting ABS data the Australian Bureau of Statistics (or ABS) must be attributed as the source.
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