It is estimated that 142 million Americans over the age of 40 have vision problems. There are between 8.2 million and 15.9 million Americans who have undiagnosed refractive errors. Because of the aging population, uncorrectable vision impairment could double by the year 2050, unless national efforts are made to lower the progression of age-related eye conditions and diseases. Three of the most common diseases are age-related macular degeneration, cataracts and glaucoma.
A new report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine is calling for converting vision impairments from “common” to “rare” and eliminating correctable vision problems in the United States by 2030. Lowering the incidence of vision impairment begins with addressing social and environmental factors, such as health literacy and safe work and play environments. There are many factors that can be controlled like the prevention of infections, chronic diseases and vision-threatening injuries. The committee that conducted the study and produced the report found that vision loss can also exacerbate other chronic illnesses and is associated with an increased risk for deaths from injuries and other causes.
There are many reasons why there has been a general lack of attention to the impact of vision loss on our society, and some of these reasons include:
- Segregation of eye care from other branches of medicine
- Fragmentation within the field of eye care
- Lack of coordination across and within federal entities
The committee is suggesting that the secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services issue a nationwide call to action to reduce vision impairment across the lifespan of people in the U.S. The secretary should collaborate with other federal agencies, nonprofit organizations, for-profit organizations, employers, public health agencies and the media to create a public awareness campaign that raises awareness about eye health. Additionally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention should develop a comprehensive surveillance system for eye and vision health to better document the epidemiological patterns, risk factors, care patterns, and costs associated with vision loss.
“For far too long, eye health has received inadequate public health attention despite good vision being essential to most people’s overall health and well-being,” said Steven Teutsch, chair of the committee and former chief science officer, Los Angeles County Department of Public Health. “We need a comprehensive approach to eye health that emphasizes education and prevention, equitable and easily accessible care, and coordination in treating and managing chronic eye conditions and vision impairment in ways that help people to live full, productive lives” (Source: National Academy of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine).