Six percent of Americans ages 12 and older, or 14 million individuals, are visually impaired, according to a study by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Of these people, about 79%, or 11 million, have uncorrected visual impairment.

The results of this study, which was part of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, are published in the May 10 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

More than 13,000 patients received a visual examination in a mobile examination center between 1999 and 2002. The researchers defined visual impairment as distance visual acuity of 20/50 or worse in the better-seeing eye and visual impairment due to uncorrected refraction as visual impairment that improved to 20/40 or better in the better-seeing eye with correction. The researchers extrapolated their findings to the general U.S. population.

Higher rates of visual impairment were found among Hispanics, teenagers, diabetic patients and patients who are economically disadvantaged.

 Patients Who Have Visual Impairment That Can Be Improved With Corrective Lenses


Percent of patients
Hispanic 88.2%






Below poverty level


At or near poverty level 80.1%
Over poverty level


The study also found that patients who have impaired vision might be at increased risk of injuries. Elderly patients, in particular, are at increased risk of falling, fracturing bones and becoming depressed.

This study found that most people who have a visual impairment could achieve good vision with proper eyeglasses or contact lenses, says Paul Sieving, M.D., Ph.D., director of vision research at NIH.

Even so, many Americans do not have access to affordable health care, says Daniel Garrett, senior vice president of Prevent Blindness America, a volunteer eye health and safety organization.

Prevent Blindness America offers help to local resources that can assist patients who need financial assistance. Also, the National Eye Institute directs patients in need to resources that can help them obtain financial aid for vision care. However, these study results now can be presented to policymakers when they address health-care issues at the local, state and national levels, says Elias Zerhouni, M.D., director of the NIH.

Providing appropriate refractive correction to those individuals whose vision can be improved is an important public health endeavor with implications for safety and quality of life, the study authors concluded.

In related news, another study ranked vision screenings for adults and children on a list of 25 services that provide the greatest health benefits for patients in terms of saving and improving the quality of lives while offering the most value for health-care dollars.

This study was sponsored by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.

This landmark study highlights the importance of shifting focus to preventive care, which can provide an enormous positive impact on health and well-being, says David Satcher, M.D., Ph.D., chair of the National Commission on Prevention Priorities, a panel that helped guide the report.

The study results will be published in the July issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

Vol. No: 143:06Issue: 6/15/2006