As every eye care professional knows, lifestyle habits—including diet, physical activity, smoking and use of dietary supplements—can significantly influence ocular health and chronic diseases.

The responsibility of providing lifestyle guidance is often placed on primary care providers; however, a new study suggests optometrists in particular are well-situated for counseling patients who may not otherwise see a medical professional but need contact lenses or prescription glasses.

Researchers sent a mail-in survey to optometrists in the Western New York area, asking what types of lifestyle advice they offered and to whom, as well as why advice was not offered in certain situations. The most common lifestyle factors that optometrists offered advice on were smoking and nutrition, and the least common were alcohol intake and physical activity. Patients receiving advice were most commonly those with AMD, dry eye and diabetic retinopathy; those with diabetes and cardiovascular disease also received advice about half the time.

Overall, 83% of the optometrists surveyed offered lifestyle advice only to patients with unhealthy behaviors or certain conditions. Most of this advice stressed the link between lifestyle and eye health or general health. The most common reasons for not giving advice were lack of time, training or knowledge. Many survey respondents also said they didn’t think the advice would result in any behavioral changes.

The American Optometric Association provides guidelines and recommendations to optometrists on giving patients advice on smoking, alcohol use, diet and physical activity, but on average, the optometrists in the survey who have been in practice for 20 years reported that they hadn’t been trained in lifestyle advising in optometry school. The researchers believe that all health care providers, including nonphysicians, should discuss lifestyle with their patients. Patients “may benefit from being offered such advice from multiple health care providers,” the researchers said.

Sahli MW, Ochs-Balcom HM, Moeller SM, et al. Findings from optometrists’ practices in advising about lifestyle study. Optom Vis Sci. July 29, 2020. [Epub ahead of print].