New research details prevalence of visual acuity loss, blindness in US

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There are more people with vision loss and blindness than previously estimated, according to a new study supported by Prevent Blindness.

Investigators have found that more than 7 million people are living with uncorrectable vision loss, including more than 1 million Americans who are living with blindness.

In a study,1 investigators have found that permanent vision loss and blindness is occurring in Americans of all ages, including people younger than 40 years old, and adults in group quarters, such as nursing homes or jails. 

“What makes this study different than previous national estimates of vision loss and blindness is that the methods we used allowed for a broader analysis of populations in the United States than were previously included,” said David B. Rein, PhD, program area director for NORC at the University of Chicago’s Public Health Analytics Program and one of the study’s co-authors. “While the addition of these various age groups is partially responsible for the increase, the growth in the number of older Americans has also contributed to more people with vision loss and blindness in the United States than previously estimated.”

Investigators also found that of those living with vision loss and blindness in the United States, nearly 1 in 4 are under the age of 40.

Moreover, more than 1.6 million Americans who are living with vision loss or blindness are under the age of 40. Of those patients, 141,000 are blind, 13% of all people with blindness in the US.

The estimated number of cases of visual acuity loss or blindness is more than 68% higher than the previous estimate created by the 2012 Vision Problems in the US study. This increased number is due to the inclusion of people younger than 40 years old, adults in group quarters, and the growth in the number of older Americans.

The investigators also noted that 358,000 people with vision loss and blindness are living in group quarters, such as nursing homes or jails. Of them 130,000 are living with blindness, representing nearly 12% of people living with blindness.

In the US, investigators estimated that 20% of all people aged 85 and older experience permanent vision loss. The study also found that more females than males experience permanent vision loss or blindness.

The study also found that there is a higher risk of vision loss among Hispanic/Latino and Black people than among Whites.

The study was authored by investigators from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington (Seattle), NORC at the University of Chicago (NORC), and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Vision Health Initiative, with support from Prevent Blindness.

Elizabeth Lundeen, PhD, MPH, an epidemiologist with the CDC, said that vision loss and blindness are often preventable.

“Vision loss is heavily influenced by access to eye care, general health care, geography, race/ethnicity, sun exposure, and underlying health conditions, like diabetes,” she said. “These updated estimates help us better understand the problem, allow for strategic resource allocation, the development and implementation of policies and programs to reduce the burden of vision loss and blindness in the United States.”

Study estimates were developed using data within CDC’s Vision and Eye Health Surveillance System (VEHSS). The VEHSS houses diverse data sources for vision - including Medicare and private insurance claims data, electronic health record data, and self-reported and clinical evaluation data from representative national surveys. Researchers used a statistical methodology called Bayesian meta-regression which used the system’s multiple data sources to produce new, more comprehensive national and state-level estimates of vision loss and blindness.

According to study co-author Abraham D. Flaxman, PhD, meta-regression helps investigators control for biases in less accurate data sources, such as self-reported vision loss, and use it to make more detailed predictions from stronger data sources, such as clinical evaluations of vision loss and blindness.

“ This study essentially used data from more expensive clinical evaluations to estimate the total amount of vision loss and blindness at the national level,” said Flaxman, who is associate professor of Health Metrics Sciences (IHME) at the University of Washington School of Medicine, and Prevalence of Visual Acuity Loss and Blindness in the US.

“The meta-regression model incorporated self-reported vision loss data to estimate more detailed information about how vision loss and blindness were distributed across the states, and among young children and the oldest old,” he concluded.

Reference

1. Abraham D. Flaxman, PhD, John S. Wittenborn, Toshana Robalik, et al; P:revalence of Visual Acuity Loss or Blindness in the US; published May 13, accessed May 18; JAMA Network