A disproportionate number of US adults with severe vision loss (SVL) live in the South, many below the federal poverty level, according to a recent analysis.
The study of vision loss and its association with poverty in 3143 counties was based on 2009 to 2013 data from the US Census Bureau’s American Community Survey. The findings showed that more than three-quarters (77.3%) of counties in the top quartile of SVL prevalence were located in the South. Among them, 55.5% also were in the top quartile of poverty. Of the 437 counties in the top quartiles for both, 83.1% were located in southern states (Kirtland KA et al. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2015;64:513-517).
In 8 states—Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas—at least 6% of counties were in the top quartile for both SVL and poverty. Among all US counties, the prevalence of SVL in adults ranged from less than 1% to 18.4%, with a median of 3.1%.
Although regular eye examinations can prevent vision loss, insurance, including Medicare, typically doesn’t cover preventive eye-care services. People living in poverty sometimes can’t afford eye examinations, and vision loss may further diminish their employment and income opportunities. An estimated 4 million people in the United States are either blind or have vision loss (corrected visual acuity 20/40 or worse in the better-seeing eye), a number expected to swell to 10 million by 2050.
More research is needed to reduce the sociodemographic disparities of vision loss and to improve access to prevention services, the investigators noted. Counties that have a high incidence of people with vision loss should encourage “healthy eating, maintaining a healthy weight, not smoking, understanding one’s family eye health history, using proper eye-safety practices, and routine eye examinations,” they wrote.