Statement on the Prevalence of Visual Impairment and How it Affects Quality of Life Among Hispanic/Latino Americans

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A new study reports that Hispanic/Latino individuals in the United States have higher rates of visual impairment and blindness than members of other ethnic groups. This is especially true of those who are older, unemployed, divorced or widowed, or less educated; and those with diabetes or any eye disease. Latinos whose vision is worse by two lines or more on a standard eye chart are more likely to report a lower quality of life. These research findings help suggest who among Hispanics should be targeted in public health campaigns related to eye disease awareness or the development of screening programs for eye disease.

The first three research papers related to this study, called the Los Angeles Latino Eye Study (LALES), appear in the June 2004 issue of the journal Ophthalmology. Additional study results are to be published in the July and August issues of the journal. The studies were funded by the National Eye Institute (NEI), and the National Center of Minority Health and Health Disparities (NCMHD), two components of the National Institutes of Health. Other funding support was provided by Research to Prevent Blindness, Inc.

LALES is the largest, most comprehensive epidemiological study of visual impairment in Hispanics conducted in the U.S. Researchers gave a detailed health interview and clinical examination to 6,357 Latinos, primarily Mexican-Americans, aged 40 and older from six census tracts in Los Angeles. The interview included an assessment of demographic, behavioral and ocular risk factors and assessed participants' health-related and vision-related quality of life. The study directors also performed a comprehensive eye examination on each of the study subjects, looking at visual acuity, intraocular pressure and visual fields. They also measured blood pressure, glycosylated hemoglobin and blood glucose, among other factors. Photographs were taken of the retina and optic disc.

The overall prevalence of visual impairment, defined as best corrected visual acuity in the better seeing eye of 20/40 or worse, was 3 percent, and the overall prevalence of blindness, defined as best corrected visual acuity in the better seeing eye of 20/200 or worse, was 0.4 percent. Visual impairment increased with age and was greater in women. Those in their 70s were three times more likely to have visual impairment, and those in their 80s were nearly eight times more likely to have visual impairment, than their younger counterparts.

Census 2000 data show that 12.5 percent of the residents in this country, 35 million people, are Latino or Hispanic, making them the largest minority group in the United States. This study re-affirms the importance of targeting older individuals and women in screening programs and directing public health messages at them. Modifiable factors, such as better education and employment, are likely to decrease the burden of visual impairment among the population. The increased prevalence of visual impairment among women deserves further investigation.

The National Eye Institute (NEI) conducts and supports research that leads to sight-saving treatments and plays a key role in reducing visual impairment and blindness. The NEI is part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), an agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The NIH's National Center on Minority Health and Health Disparities (NCMHD) conducts and supports research, training, information dissemination and other programs aimed at reducing the disproportionately high incidence and prevalence of disease, burden of illness, and mortality experienced by certain American populations, including racial and ethnic minorities and other groups with disparate health status, such as the urban and rural poor.

Citations Globe DR, Wu J, Azen SP, Varma R, Los Angeles Latino Eye Study Group. The Impact of Visual Impairment on Self-Reported Visual Functioning in Latinos: The Los Angeles Latino Eye Study. Ophthalmology. 2004 Jun. PubMed Varma R, Paz SH, Azen SP, Klein R, Globe D, Torres M, Shufelt C, Preston-Martin S, Los Angeles Latino Eye Study Group. The Los Angeles Latino Eye Study: Design, Methods, and Baseline Data. Ophthalmology. 2004 Jun. PubMed Varna R, Ying-Lai M, Klein R, Azen SP, Los Angeles Latino Eye Study Group. Prevalence and Risk Indicators of Visual Impairment and Blindness in Latinos: The Los Angeles Latino Eye Study. Ophthalmology. 2004 Jun. PubMed