More diabetes means increase in eye trouble

The nation’s twin epidemics of obesity and diabetes are beginning to rob more Americans of their sight, a new study shows.

The percentage of American adults suffering from uncorrectable vision loss spiked 21 percent in only about six years, rising to nearly 1.7 percent of the population, according to an analysis that compared the periods of 1999-2002 and 2005-2008.

Rates of visual impairment doubled among poor people and those who’d had diabetes for a decade or more, according to the study, published in The Journal of the American Medical Association. Researchers defined impairment as anything worse than 20/40 vision that can’t be corrected with glasses, a problem that disqualifies people from driving in many states.

“This is a dramatic change in eye disease in a small amount of time,” says study author David Friedman, director of preventive ophthalmology at Johns Hopkins’ Wilmer Eye Institute in Baltimore.

Typically, this sort of sight loss occurs in old age. Yet the biggest jump in visual impairment was in young adults ages 20 to 39, when these kinds of sight problems are usually rare, notes David Musch, an epidemiologist at the University of Michigan Kellogg Eye Center.

“I would hope this raises a flag for people,” he says.

Musch notes that the ranks of Americans with this kind of vision loss swelled by nearly 700,000 people in the six-year study period.

Gannett News Service