Iodine deficiency in a population causes increased prevalence of goiter and, more importantly, may increase the risk for intellectual deficiency in that population. The National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys [NHANES I (1971-1974) and (NHANES III (1988-1994)] measured urinary iodine (UI) concentrations. UI concentrations are an indicator of the adequacy of iodine intake for a population. The median UI concentrations in iodine-sufficient populations should be greater than 10 microg/dL, and no more than 20% of the population should have UI concentrations less than 5 microg/dL. Median UI concentrations from both NHANES I and NHANES III indicate adequate iodine intake for the overall U.S. population, but the median concentration decreased more than 50% between 1971-1974 (32.0+/-0.6 microg/dL) and 1988-1994 (14.5+/-0.3 microg/dL). Low UI concentrations (<5 microg/dL) were found in 11.7% of the 1988-1994 population, a 4.5-fold increase over the proportion in the 1971-1974 population. The percentage of people excreting low concentrations of iodine (UI, <5 microg/dL) increased in all age groups. In pregnant women, 6.7%, and in women of child-bearing age, 14.9% had UI concentrations below 5 microg/dL. The findings in 1988-1994, although not indicative of iodine deficiency in the overall U.S. population, define a trend that must be monitored.