The national health objective for 2010 to reduce the number of children with visual impairment and blindness to 20 per 1,000 children has not yet been achieved, according to a new report issued by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC administered its 2002 National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) on childhood vision to parents or other adult family members of 12,524 children.1 The findings revealed that:

 The prevalence of reported visual impairment and blindness among children younger than 18 years was 2.5%. 

Hispanic children had a significantly higher prevalence of reported blindness and visual impairment (3.6%) than non-Hispanic white children (2.3%).

 The number of children younger than age 6 who ever had a vision exam was 36.3% short of the national health objective target of 52%.

 Some 7.4% of children younger than age 6 and 20.7% of all children younger than age 18 had visited an eye care provider during the preceding year. 

Asian, non-Hispanic black and Hispanic children were significantly less likely (15.0%, 19.1% and 15.5%, respectively) to have seen an optometrist or ophthalmologist during the preceding 12 months than non-Hispanic white children (22.8%). 

Children of families below the federal poverty level were almost twice as likely to be visually impaired as children from families whose income was greater than or equal to 200% of the poverty level. 

Children of families whose incomes were greater than or equal to 200% of the federal poverty level (22.7%) were more likely to have seen an ophthalmologist or optometrist during the preceding 12 months than children of families whose incomes were below the poverty level (17.0%).

 Half (50.9%) of the 6- to 17-year-old children participated in sports, hobbies or other activities that could cause ocular injury, but less than 15% wore protective eyewear always or most of the time.

While these statistics are no doubt alarming, a new bill seeks to improve vision care for children in the United States.2

U.S. Rep. Vito Fossella (R-N.Y.) introduced the Childrens Access to Vision Act of 2005 (H.R. 2328) on May 12. The bill seeks to:

 Establish a $75 million state-wide grant program to provide comprehensive eye exams to children (those under age 9 are the priority) diagnosed with a vision disorder after seeing a licensed health-care provider or vision screener. 

Provide subsequent treatment or services to these children to correct their vision problems.

Create and distribute educational materials to parents, teachers and health-care practitioners about how to identify the signs of visual problems in children.

What is exciting about this bill is that it establishes both the need and the funding for states to help children who have failed screenings to get the eye care and treatment that they need, says optometrist Andrea P. Thau, vice president of the New York Childrens Vision Coalition in New York. And, here in New York, for example, the vast majority of children never get the follow-up care or treatment that was identified as needed after such screenings.

1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Visual impairment and use of eye-care services and protective eyewear among childrenUnited States, 2002. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2005 May 6;54(17):425-9.
2. The News & Information. 109th CONGRESS 1st Session H. R. 2328 To establish a grant program to provide follow-up treatment for children identified to have a vision disorder. (26 May 2005)

Vol. No: 142:6Issue: 6/15/05