Reduced Educational Outcomes Persist into Adolescence Following Mild Iodine Deficiency in Utero, Despite Adequacy in Childhood: 15-Year Follow-Up of the Gestational Iodine Cohort Investigating Auditory Processing Speed and Working Memory

Nutrients. 2017 Dec 13;9(12):1354. doi: 10.3390/nu9121354.


There is increasing evidence that even mild gestational iodine deficiency (GID) results in adverse neurocognitive impacts on offspring. It's unclear, however, if these persist long-term and whether they can be ameliorated by iodine sufficiency in childhood. We followed a unique cohort (Gestational Iodine Cohort, n = 266) where gestation occurred during a period of mild population iodine deficiency, with children subsequently growing-up in an iodine replete environment. We investigated whether associations between mild GID and reductions in literacy outcomes, observed at age 9-years, persisted into adolescence. Comparisons were made between offspring of mothers with gestational urinary iodine concentrations (UICs) ≥ 150 μg/L and < 150 μg/L. Educational outcomes were measured using Australian National Assessment Program-Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) tests. Children whose mothers had UICs < 150 μg/L exhibited persistent reductions in spelling from Year 3 (10%, -41.4 points (95% Confidence Interval -65.1 to -17.6, p = 0.001)) to Year 9 (5.6%, -31.6 (-57.0 to -6.2, p = 0.015)) compared to children whose mothers had UICs ≥ 150 μg/L. Associations remained after adjustment for biological factors, socioeconomic status and adolescent UIC. Results support the hypothesis that mild GID may impact working memory and auditory processing speed. The findings have important public health implications for management of iodine nutrition in pregnancy.

Keywords: adolescence; auditory processing speed; children; educational outcomes; gestation; iodine deficiency; iodine nutrition; literacy; working memory.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Auditory Perception / physiology*
  • Australia
  • Child
  • Cohort Studies
  • Female
  • Fetal Development
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Iodine / deficiency*
  • Iodine / urine*
  • Linear Models
  • Memory, Short-Term*
  • Nutritional Status
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects*
  • Socioeconomic Factors


  • Iodine