Make Eye Health a National Health Priority, Report Says

Megan Brooks

September 20, 2016

Millions of Americans have undiagnosed or untreated vision impairment, yet eye and vision health remains "notably" absent from many population health agendas and community programs, says a new report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.

The 450-page report – Public Health Approaches to Reduce Vision Impairment and Promote Eye Health – calls for transforming vision impairments from an "exceedingly common to a rare condition" and eliminating correctable and avoidable vision impairments in the United States by 2030.

The report is the culmination of 2 years of in-depth analysis and discussion by a 15-member expert panel chaired by Steven Teutsch, MD, MPH, former chief science officer, Los Angeles County Department of Public Health.

"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," Dr Teutsch said in a news release. "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."

A Call to Action

Overall, uncorrected or undiagnosed refractive errors affect between 8.2 million and 15.9 million people in the United States, including millions of children, the report notes. In children, uncorrected or undiagnosed vision impairment can lead to developmental, academic, and social challenges.

In adults, vision impairment increases the risk for falls and injuries, social isolation, depression, and other psychological problems and can increase the adverse effects of other chronic illnesses. With the aging population, uncorrectable vision impairment could double by 2050 unless efforts are made to slow the progression and severity of common age-related eye diseases and conditions, such as age-related macular degeneration, cataracts, and glaucoma, the report says.

The report calls on the US Department of Health and Human Services, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), professional education programs, and state and local health departments and their communities to take action toward reducing the burden of vision impairment in people of all ages.

"Coordinated efforts are needed to expand public health capacities and to encourage policies and programs that recognize improved eye and vision health as an important population health outcome and as a means by which to achieve better health equity," the report says. "Particular attention needs to be paid to ensuring that essential services and treatments are affordable, particularly for the most vulnerable populations."

The complete list of specific recommendations is available online.

Landmark Moment

In a statement, National Eye Institute (NEI) Director Paul Sieving, MD, PhD, said, "We at NEI commend the expert panel for its thorough and thoughtful investigation and its insightful recommendations. NEI is considering how best to implement the recommendations that relate to the mission of the institute. NEI reaffirms its commitment to the NIH mission to fund and conduct scientific research in support of an evidence base for the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of injuries, diseases, and conditions that result in visual impairment, and the promotion of eye health for all Americans."

"This report is a landmark moment in public health in America, as it moves eye health to a prominent position on the national agenda," David W. Parke II, MD, CEO of the American Academy of Ophthalmology, said in a statement.

The report was cosponsored by the National Institutes of Health through the NEI, as well as the CDC, the American Academy of Ophthalmology, and several other professional organizations and nonprofit patient advocacy groups.

Public Health Approaches to Reduce Vision Impairment and Promote Eye Health. National Academies Press. Full text

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