Researchers have found a correlation between poverty and severe vision loss. They also identified the South as having the most poor people with bad vision.
However, researchers for the study, published Thursday in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, could not say for certain whether the study population's poverty was the result of their poor vision, or if their bad eyesight was the result of low socio-economic status.
Researchers from the CDC, the National Eye Institute and the University of Michigan examined self-reported data in the American Community Survey conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau to identify counties where severe vision loss (SVL) was prevalent. Other U.S. Census data were used to identify low-income counties.
Poverty levels can vary widely within counties. Researchers noted that the proportion of residents living below the poverty level ranged from 1.3% to 48.8% across the nation's 3,143 counties, with a median level of 13.9%. Prevalence of severe vision loss ranged from less than 1% to 18.4% with a median level of 3.9%
“County prevalence of SVL was significantly correlated with county poverty,” the researchers wrote, noting that 55.5% of the counties with the highest numbers of residents with poor vision were also in the top quartile for low incomes.
Among counties in the top quartile for severe vision loss, 77.3% are in the South, 11.7% are in the West, 10.7% are in the Midwest, and only 0.3% are in the Northeast.
“Vision loss could be a consequence of poverty,” the researchers speculated. “Alternatively, persons with SVL often have limited access to education and employment opportunities, which might, in turn, decrease their earning potential.”
In all, there were 437 counties in the top quartiles for both poor vision and low income, and 83.1% of these were in Southern states.
“Previous studies on the link between a person's lower socioeconomic status and visual impairment, eye diseases, and ocular risk factors have found that access to and use of healthcare are important factors in the relationship between visual impairment and socioeconomic status,” the researchers stated. “Further investigations are needed to better understand the socio-demographic disparities of vision loss, how to minimize risk factors associated with vision loss, and how to improve access and use of eye care services.”
The most common causes of adult vision problems are: cataracts, diabetic retinopathy, glaucoma and age-related macular degeneration.
Bobby Christensen, senior vice president for clinical strategies at the Vision Source network of independent optometrists, said there were many factors that led to the study's findings.
"Higher rates of diabetes, poor diets, increased obesity rates, lack of access to eye care professionals and poor patient compliance can all correlate with severe vision loss in U.S. counties having higher poverty levels," Christensen said. "Also, many of the eye diseases causing vision loss are gradual and painless, and lack of healthcare education and the perceived value for an eye examination may be other mitigating factors."
Steven Loomis, president-elect of the American Optometric Association, said his organization released a workforce analysis last year whose findings suggested that the vision problems faced in Southern states were not the result of a shortage of vision-care professionals.
"The supply of eye doctors is adequate to meet the current and future eye health and vision care needs of the American people, including those in the Southern states," Loomis said.