Researchers from the Bascom Palmer Eye Institute in Miami have demonstrated that certain socioeconomic factors are associated with higher rates of visual impairment. After controlling for comorbidities, the disproportionate burden of impairment in minority communities remained.

Multivariate regression analysis of 342,295 respondents revealed that younger age (i.e., below 45) and male sex were independently associated with decreased risk of visual impairment. Nonwhite race, lower education, smaller income and uninsured status were factors independently associated with higher rates of impairment. A secondary multivariate analysis showed that private insurance and employer- or union-provided insurance was protective against visual impairment.

The researchers noted that visual impairment in the study was defined by responses to a single question—“Are you blind or do you have serious difficulty seeing, even when wearing glasses?”—and could be prone to misclassification. “Without objective measures of visual function, we cannot confirm or quantify the degree of visual impairment,” they stated in their paper.

The study concluded that the etiology of these disparities is complex, and patient, provider and healthcare systemic factors could all play a contributory role. The researchers are hopeful that their findings will help identify areas requiring improvement in eye health for different populations.

Uhr JH, Chawla H, Williams BK, et al. Racial and socioeconomic disparities in visual impairment in the United States. Ophthalmology. November 6, 2020. [Epub ahead of print].