Disparities in vision care start in childhood. Photo: Getty Images.

Health outcomes in the United States tend to be poorer among disadvantaged people. While researchers tend to focus on this association in adults, a recently published JAMA Ophthalmology study looked at an adolescent population to gain “insight into the emergence of vision health inequities.”

The cross-sectional study included 2,833 adolescents aged 12 to 18 from the 2005-2008 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey who had completed visual function questionnaires and eye exams. The researchers looked at self-reported vision and visual acuity.

The study population represented a survey-weighted 57 million adolescent children. A total of 14% were non-Hispanic Black, 11% Mexican American, 63% non-Hispanic White and 11% other races and ethnicities. Also, 5% were not US citizens, and 19% had a family income below the poverty threshold.

The researchers noted increased odds of self-reported poor vision among Black, Mexican American and low-income adolescent children. Increased odds of visual acuity worse than 20/40 in the better-seeing eye were found among Black, Mexican American and non-US citizen participants.

“Physicians caring for adolescent children should be aware of the racial, ethnic and socioeconomic disparities in vision,” the researchers wrote in their paper. “Improving access to vision care services may decrease the burden of preventable visual impairment extending into adulthood.”

Adomfeh J, Jastrzembski BG, Oke I. Association of race, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status with visual impairment in adolescent children in the US. JAMA Ophthalmol. September 15, 2022. [Epub ahead of print].