The human body needs tiny amounts of the mineral iodine throughout life to prevent the development of goiter and other thyroid conditions and to prevent low IQs and more severe mental retardation in the form of cretinism (characterized by physical stunting). Until recently, these iodine-deficiency disorders have been especially prevalent in rural China, where 400 million people live in areas that lack iodine in the environment. At one time, UNICEF stated that half the Chinese babies born each year were 10-15 IQ points lower than the national average because of iodine deficiency.
Recognizing the profound effect that this nutrient deficiency had on the Chinese population, officials began to provide iodine injections to people in iodine-deprived areas during the 1980s. This program could not offset the effect of rising consumption of cheaper, non-iodized salt, which entered the Chinese market in the 1990s, during liberalization toward private enterprise. Beginning in 1993, the Chinese government began to institute a program that included reviving a national salt monopoly, (made up of approved salt operators who produced iodized salt) fixing salt prices to ensure profitability, and criminalizing the sale of private salt. According to a New York Times article, "[f]ive years ago, only a third of the Chinese population, then 1.2 billion, consumed iodized salt. ...Today, more than 90% of Chinese eat iodized salt." And goiter and other signs of iodine deficiency hve disappeared among China's young.
"China Uses Monopoly and Central Planning to Battle Iodine Ills" by Leslie Chang. The Wall Street Journal, June 20, 2001.
COPYRIGHT 2001 The Townsend Letter Group
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