News Release

Tuesday, May 9, 2006

Study Finds Most Americans Have Good Vision, But 14 Million Are Visually Impaired

Photos, graphics, and other materials available in downloadable, camera-ready format on the NEI Website at:

TV NOTE: This week’s JAMA video news release features this study result. The release will be fed Tuesday, May 9, from 9:00 - 9:30 a.m. ET on Intelsat America 6 (formerly Telstar 6) (C), Transponder 11 Downlink frequency: 3920 Vertical and from 2:00 - 2:30 p.m. ET on Intelsat America 6 (C), Transponder 11. Downlink frequency: 3920 Vertical Audio: 6.2/6.8 TROUBLE # (323) 930-1030 or (212) 682-5200 (for earlier feed)


A National Institutes of Health (NIH) study has found that although 94 percent of Americans aged 12 and older have good vision, the remaining six percent, or 14 million, are visually impaired. Of these, more than 11 million have uncorrected visual impairment, such as nearsightedness. They need eyeglasses or contact lenses to improve their vision. Teenagers, people with diabetes, Hispanics, and people who are economically disadvantaged have higher rates of visual impairment and can most benefit from corrective lenses. This study is published in the May 10, 2006 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Elias A. Zerhouni, M.D., director of the NIH, said, “This is the first national survey on vision since the mid-1970s, and it confirms that uncorrected visual impairment is a major public health problem. The good news is that we now have information on the extent of visual impairment in the United States that will be available to policymakers as they seek to address health care issues at the local, state, and national levels.”

This study, designed and supported by the National Eye Institute (NEI) of the NIH, was part of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, an ongoing survey conducted by the National Center for Health Statistics of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More than 15,000 people participated in the survey from 1999 to 2002. They were interviewed in their homes and were invited to undergo a comprehensive health examination in a mobile examination center (MEC). More than 14,000 reported to a MEC, and more than 13,000 completed visual acuity tests.

Paul A. Sieving, M.D., Ph.D., director of vision research at NIH, said, “This study found that most people who have a visual impairment could achieve good vision with proper eyeglasses or contact lenses. So, if you have trouble seeing, you should get your eyes examined as soon as possible. It may be that corrective lenses will improve your vision. But, if you do have an eye disease, the sooner it is found, the more likely it is that treatment can help preserve your vision.”

The study authors made the following recommendations:

  • Health care professionals should talk to their patients about the importance of eye health and encourage them to participate in routine vision screenings and eye examinations.
  • People who already wear eyeglasses or contact lenses should return to their eye care professional for periodic eye examinations.
  • Efforts to increase public awareness about the importance of routine eye examinations should be undertaken.
  • Vision screening opportunities for the public should be expanded.
Percent of people with visual impairment that CAN be corrected with glasses/contact lenses
Hispanic 88.2%
Black 83.7%
White 83.6%
Other 88.6%
Age (years)
12-19 years 93.1%
20-39 years 90.0%
40-59 years 92.4%
60+ years 59.5%
Below poverty level 84.1%
At or near poverty level 80.1%
Over (two times) poverty level 88.7%

Mary Frances Cotch, Ph.D., chief of the NEI’s epidemiology branch and one of the study authors, concluded, “Providing corrective lenses to people who need them is an important public health issue with implications for safety and quality of life.”

The National Eye Institute (NEI) is part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and is the Federal government's lead agency for vision research that leads to sight-saving treatments and plays a key role in reducing visual impairment and blindness. For more information, visit the NEI Website at

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) — The Nation's Medical Research Agency — includes 27 Institutes and Centers and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. It is the primary federal agency for conducting and supporting basic, clinical and translational medical research, and it investigates the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and its programs, visit

About the National Institutes of Health (NIH): NIH, the nation's medical research agency, includes 27 Institutes and Centers and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. NIH is the primary federal agency conducting and supporting basic, clinical, and translational medical research, and is investigating the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and its programs, visit

NIH…Turning Discovery Into Health®