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Study Finds Most Americans Have Good Vision, But
14 Million Are Visually Impaired
Most People Who Are Visually Impaired Could See Better If They
Had the Proper Eyeglasses or Contact Lenses
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
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
|Below poverty level
|At or near poverty level
|Over (two times) poverty level
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 http://www.nei.nih.gov/.
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 www.nih.gov.