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Poll: Losing eyesight ranks first among Americans as having greatest impact


A recent national public opinion poll reflects racial and ethnic populations and their attitudes about vision and vision loss.



A recent national public opinion poll reflects racial and ethnic populations and their attitudes about vision and vision loss.



By Kathryn Foxhall

Washington, DC-Upon learning that the federal government spends on average $2.10 annually per person on eye and vision research, many Americans said this is not enough, according to a recent poll.

Of non-Hispanic White Americans, 47% said it was not enough; 25% said it was enough; and a full 23% was not sure.

Among African-Americans, 51% said it is not enough. Fifty percent of Hispanics and 35% of Asians agreed.

The poll-sponsored by Alliance for Eye and Vision Research (AEVR), along with Research to Prevent Blindness and Research!America-also showed about one-half of Americans said that on a scale of one to 10 losing their sight would rate a 10 in terms of impact on their lives.

AEVR Executive Director James Jorkasky said the study is the most rigorous to date that reflects minority populations and their attitudes about vision and vision loss.

Neil Bressler, MD, chief of the Retina Division, Wilmer Eye Institute, Johns Hopkins University of Medicine, Baltimore, said the results were striking because they show the high value that people place on their sight extends across ethnic groups.


Challenges with funding restraints

The groups presented the research at a Washington, DC press conference in hope of getting federal funding increases this year for the National Eye Institute (NEI). But on the same day Congress finished a “Continuing Resolution” that flat funds most government functions at least through Dec. 11. The fiscal year 2015 starts Oct. 1 and a new annual budget was supposed to be in place by then.

AEVR’s Jorkasky said because the continuing resolution mandates new funding for Ebola that amount must be taken from other efforts.

“This translates to an annualized cut of $370,000 to the National Eye Institute’s (NEI) FY2014 operating budget of $673.5 million, which is about the current $400,000 value of one investigator-initiated grant (R01),” he said.

The National Alliance for Eye and Vision Research gave written testimony in the Congressional appropriations hearings this year, saying: “NEI has lost 25% of its purchasing power since FY2003. The FY2013 sequester cut has already resulted in NEI awarding 30 fewer grants….”

In comparison, he estimated that private funding for eye and vision research is about $50 to $60 million per year, aside from funding raised by ophthalmology departments and schools or colleges of optometry-the amount for which would be difficult to estimate, he said.

Paul Sieving, MD, PhD, NEI director, said, “The outcome of federal and private philanthropy in investing in research over the past half century have produced real results,” a message the vision community needs to get out to the nation.

James Tsai, MD, president of the New York Eye and Ear Infirmary of Mount Sinai, argued that with advances including the human genome project and new information from neurosciences, “now is not the time to reduce the investment, but to increase the investment to really take advantage of the hard work that has already been done.”


The funding restraints are happening while the burden of vision problems is growing larger, due in great part to the aging of the baby boomers, AEVR said.

Many people are not aware of that, according to the poll. Asked how much health-care costs from eye disorders will change by the year 2050, the proportion of respondents who say they will “increase significantly” ranged from 20% to 32% across ethnic groups.

Meantime, the poll also showed that large majorities of Americans in various ethnic groups-79% to 83%-say they feel it’s very important or somewhat important that the nation support research on prevention and treatment for eye and vision disorders.

Knowledge gaps

The poll also shows significant gaps in knowledge about eye diseases and sizable differences in that knowledge among ethnic groups. When asked about cataract, glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy or diabetic eye disease, and age-related macular degeneration (AMD), 22% to 35% of people in the different ethnic groups said they had heard of none of these conditions.

Fifty-nine percent of non-Hispanic Whites had heard of AMD, but that proportion ranged from 33% to 37% for Asian, Hispanic, and African-American people.

Of those four conditions, the least recognized was diabetic retinopathy or diabetic eye disease. Knowledge of it ranged from 27% to 41% across the ethnic groups.


Identifying risk factors

On the other hand, large majorities of 70% to 80% strongly agreed or somewhat agreed with the idea that exposure to excessive sunlight or ultraviolet radiation is associated with greater risk of eye disease.

In addition, 42% to 57% of people strongly or somewhat agreed that obesity is a risk factor for eye disease and 48% to 62% recognized smoking as a risk, according to the poll.

Other findings showed that about half of respondents said they had health insurance for routine eye exams or glasses. But 34% to 42% said they never had eye exams or had them less often than they would like because they lacked coverage.

About half of people in all ethnic groups said they would be very likely or somewhat likely to participate in a clinical trial if their health-care provider recommended it.



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