Public Release: 

Prevalence of visual impairment, blindness expected to increase in US

The JAMA Network Journals

An aging Baby Boomer population in the U.S. will contribute to an expected doubling of the prevalence of visual impairment and blindness in the next 35 years, according to a study published online by JAMA Ophthalmology.

Tracking the number and characteristics of individuals with visual impairment (VI) and blindness is important given the negative effect of these conditions on physical and mental health. In particular, individuals who are visually impaired or blind have a higher risk of chronic health conditions, unintentional injuries, social withdrawal, depression and death.

Rohit Varma, M.D. M.P.H., of the Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California, Los Angeles and colleagues examined the demographic and geographic variations in VI and blindness in adults in the US population in 2015 and estimated the projected prevalence through 2050. Data were pooled from adults 40 years and older from 6 major population-based studies on VI and blindness in the United States. Prevalence of VI and blindness were reported by age, sex, race/ethnicity, and per capita prevalence by state using the U.S. Census projections (January 1, 2015, through December 31, 2050).

In 2015, a total of l.02 million people were blind, and approximately 3.22 million people in the United States had VI (best-corrected visual acuity in the better-seeing eye), whereas up to 8.2 million people had VI due to uncorrected refractive error. By 2050, the numbers of these conditions are projected to double to approximately 2.01 million people with blindness, 6.95 million people with VI, and 16.4 million with VI due to uncorrected refractive error.

The highest numbers of these conditions in 2015 were among non-Hispanic white individuals, women, and older adults, and these groups will remain the most affected through 2050. However, African American individuals experience the highest prevalence of visual impairment and blindness. By 2050, the highest prevalence of VI among minorities will shift from African American individuals (15.2 percent in 2015 to 16.3 percent in 2050) to Hispanic individuals (9.9 percent in 2015 to 20.3 percent in 2050).

"Targeted education and screening programs for non-Hispanic white women and minorities should become increasingly important because of the projected growth of these populations and their relative contribution to the overall numbers of these conditions," the authors write.

From 2015 to 2050, the states projected to have the highest per capita prevalence of VI are Florida and Hawaii, and the states projected to have the highest projected per capita prevalence of blindness are Mississippi and Louisiana.

"Given a projected doubling of the prevalence of VI and blindness in the next 35 years, vision screening and intervention for refractive error and early eye disease may prevent and/or reduce a high proportion of individuals from developing these conditions, enhance their quality of life, and potentially decrease direct and indirect costs to the U.S. economy."

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(JAMA Ophthalmol. Published online May 19, 2016.doi:10.1001/jamaophthalmol.2016.1284; this study is available pre-embargo at the For The Media website.)

Editor's Note: Please see the article for additional information, including other authors, author contributions and affiliations, financial disclosures, funding and support, etc.

Media Advisory: To contact Rohit Varma, M.D. M.P.H., call Sherri Snelling at 949-887-1903 or email sherri.snelling@med.usc.edu.

To place an electronic embedded link to this study in your story: Link will be live at the embargo time: http://archopht.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?doi=10.1001/jamaophthalmol.2016.1284

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