The Economic Effects of Micronutrient Deficiency: Evidence from Salt Iodization in the United States
Iodine deficiency is the leading cause of preventable mental retardation in the world today. Iodine deficiency was common in the developed world until the introduction of iodized salt in the 1920’s. The incidence of iodine deficiency is connected to low iodine levels in the soil and water. We examine the impact of salt iodization in the US by taking advantage of this natural geographic variation. Areas with high pre-treatment levels of iodine deficiency provide a treatment group which we can compare to a control group of low iodine deficiency areas. In the US, salt was iodized over a very short period of time around 1924. We use previously unused data collected during WWI and WWII to compare outcomes of cohorts born before and after iodization, in localities that were naturally poor and rich in iodine. We find evidence of the beneficial effects of iodization on the cognitive abilities of the cohorts exposed to it.
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