Globally, about 2 thousand million people are affected by iodine deficiency. Although endemic goitre is the most visible sign of iodine deficiency, its most devastating consequence is brain damage causing mental retardation in children. The relationship between iodine deficiency and brain damage was not clearly established until the 1980s when the term iodine deficiency disorders (IDDs), which encompass a spectrum of conditions caused by iodine deficiency, was introduced. This paradigm shift in the understanding of the clinical consequences of iodine deficiency led to a change in iodine deficiency assessment. The median urinary iodine excretion level has been recommended as the preferred indicator for monitoring population iodine deficiency status since 2001. The 2007 WHO urinary iodine data in schoolchildren from 130 countries revealed that iodine intake is still insufficient in 47 countries. Furthermore, about one-third of countries lack national estimates of the prevalence of iodine deficiency. The picture that has emerged from available data worldwide over the past two decades is that IDDs are not confined to remote, mountainous areas in developing countries, but are a global public health problem that affects most countries, including developed countries and island nations. The recognition of the universality of iodine deficiency highlights the need to develop and apply new strategies to establish and maintain sustainable IDD elimination and strengthen regular monitoring programmes.