2 billion individuals worldwide have insufficient iodine intake, with those in south Asia and sub-Saharan Africa particularly affected. Iodine deficiency has many adverse effects on growth and development. These effects are due to inadequate production of thyroid hormone and are termed iodine-deficiency disorders. Iodine deficiency is the most common cause of preventable mental impairment worldwide. Assessment methods include urinary iodine concentration, goitre, newborn thyroid-stimulating hormone, and blood thyroglobulin. In nearly all countries, the best strategy to control iodine deficiency is iodisation of salt, which is one of the most cost-effective ways to contribute to economic and social development. When iodisation of salt is not possible, iodine supplements can be given to susceptible groups. Introduction of iodised salt to regions of chronic iodine-deficiency disorders might transiently increase the proportion of thyroid disorders, but overall the small risks of iodine excess are far outweighed by the substantial risks of iodine deficiency. International efforts to control iodine-deficiency disorders are slowing, and reaching the third of the worldwide population that remains deficient poses major challenges.