At the recent AGM of the PHAA Judy Seal was awarded a President’s Award by David Templeman for her critical role in addressing iodine deficiency firstly in Tasmania and then across Australia, as well as support for community nutrition programs and mentorship of local and national public health colleagues.
In a year that has seen the public health workforce having to respond rapidly to public health emergencies such as the bushfires in Australia in 2019/2020 and the COVID-19 pandemic, it seemed important to recognise the tireless efforts of Judy Seal, Tasmanian public health nutrition officer, over many years in addressing the potentially catastrophic impacts of iodine deficiency in Tasmania and across Australia. Iodine deficiency during pregnancy can lead to neurodevelopmental disorders in newborns, causing mental disability; and can cause a range of health effects in adults including thyroid disorders and fertility issues.
Judy has worked fearlessly over almost three decades to ensure all Australians are protected from the impacts of iodine deficiency; commencing in Tasmania where iodine deficiency is endemic due to the nature of the soil. Judy played a central role in discussions with the local food industry to identify potential strategies to address what had then been identified as persistent iodine deficiency in Tasmanian children. This resulted in the implementation of a voluntary iodine fortification program in 2001 that involved the use of iodised salt by Tasmanian bakers.
Recognising that other parts of Australia were also experiencing iodine deficiency, Judy advocated strongly for a national mandatory iodine fortification program using the same model adopted in Tasmania of replacing non-iodised salt with iodised salt in bread. Judy was also involved in discussions to ensure that the proposed national fortification program for iodine was linked with that of folate, and in September 2009 Australia introduced mandatory fortification of bread with folic acid (in Australia only) and iodine (in both Australia and New Zealand) under the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code. In conjunction with the need for a mandatory fortification program, Judy was a critical voice in ensuring an ongoing monitoring and surveillance system for iodine was established at the same time.
Judy is recognised locally, nationally and internationally by her peers as an expert in this field and she has willingly acted as an expert advisor to many local, national and international committees on iodine and folate deficiency, approaches to fortification, and monitoring and surveillance. Her expert contribution has been publicly acknowledged on numerous significant national reports and she has acted as an expert advisor on local, national and international committees.
Judy has also been a key collaborator with researchers based at the Menzies Institute for Medical Research, University of Tasmania, that has investigated the prevalence of iodine deficiency among children and the general population and the impact of fortification programs over the past two decades. This has resulted in Judy being named as an author on 11 peer-review publications along with numerous conference presentations. This important work continues today with concerns that current approaches to fortification may be inadequate to meet the needs of pregnant and lactating women, who require higher levels of iodine than the general population.
Working and advocating from within government and across jurisdictions, Judy has used all the avenues and mechanisms at her disposal to advocate for a national mandated iodine fortification program supported by an ongoing monitoring and surveillance program. Her work is an exemplar for public health practitioners everywhere with its focus on good science and strong evidence, persistent and consistent communication, collaborative and innovative approaches for intervention, use of regulatory frameworks and ongoing monitoring and evaluation.
Judy’s advocacy over an extensive period has been instrumental in ensuring Australian children have not been significantly impacted by the deleterious impacts associated with iodine (and folate) deficiency. We congratulate Judy on this well-deserved President’s award.
Dr Kim Jose is the President of the PHAA Tasmania Branch and is a public health researcher and practitioner with more than a decade’s experience conducting applied research in partnership with government, service providers, health consumers and community members. Kim has made contributions to understanding and addressing complex health and social problems in Tasmania.