Are fluoride levels in drinking water associated with hypothyroidism prevalence in England? A large observational study of GP practice data and fluoride levels in drinking water
- Correspondence to Professor Stephen Peckham, Centre for Health Services Studies, University of Kent, Canterbury, Kent CT2 7NF, UK;
- Received 18 September 2014
- Revised 16 January 2015
- Accepted 18 January 2015
- Published Online First 24 February 2015
Background While previous research has suggested that there is an association between fluoride ingestion and the incidence of hypothyroidism, few population level studies have been undertaken. In England, approximately 10% of the population live in areas with community fluoridation schemes and hypothyroidism prevalence can be assessed from general practice data. This observational study examines the association between levels of fluoride in water supplies with practice level hypothyroidism prevalence.
Methods We used a cross-sectional study design using secondary data to develop binary logistic regression models of predictive factors for hypothyroidism prevalence at practice level using 2012 data on fluoride levels in drinking water, 2012/2013 Quality and Outcomes Framework (QOF) diagnosed hypothyroidism prevalence data, 2013 General Practitioner registered patient numbers and 2012 practice level Index of Multiple Deprivation scores.
Findings We found that higher levels of fluoride in drinking water provide a useful contribution for predicting prevalence of hypothyroidism. We found that practices located in the West Midlands (a wholly fluoridated area) are nearly twice as likely to report high hypothyroidism prevalence in comparison to Greater Manchester (non-fluoridated area).
Interpretation In many areas of the world, hypothyroidism is a major health concern and in addition to other factors—such as iodine deficiency—fluoride exposure should be considered as a contributing factor. The findings of the study raise particular concerns about the validity of community fluoridation as a safe public health measure.