Disorders caused by iodine deficiency continue to be a major health problem in many underdeveloped areas of the world. The most significant is the impaired mental and physical development which occurs as a result of iodine deprivation early in life. Individuals in affected communities show a spectrum of abnormalities which can be attributed to two interacting pathological processes. Fetal hypothyroidism in the first and early second trimester predominantly affects the developing nervous system causing deaf-mutism and mental retardation. If hypothyroidism occurs in the early postnatal period the main abnormalities are growth stunting and related somatic abnormalities. Subclinical deficits of intellectual and motor development may also be found in apparently normal individuals living in affected areas. Although dietary iodine deficiency is clearly the major aetiological factor in both endemic goitre and cretinism, cofactors such as goitrogens, other trace element deficiencies and immunological mechanisms may greatly modify the expression of these disorders. Iodine supplementation programmes form the basis of the public health strategy in combatting these disorders. Where the iodization of foodstuffs is not feasible, an alternative is the use of iodine containing oil which can be given orally or intramuscularly to provide a long-lasting supply of iodine.