Visual impairment in preschool children will increase 26 percent, affecting almost 220,000 children over the next 45 years, according to a study by the USC Gayle and Edward Roski Eye Institute published in JAMA Ophthalmology.
USC researchers found that between 2015 and 2060, multiracial American children will have the highest proportional increase (137 percent) in visual impairment cases, and Hispanic white children will remain the largest demographic group in terms of the absolute numbers of cases (44 percent of the total). Meanwhile, white American children will have the largest proportional decrease (21 percent). The states projected to have the most children with visual impairment over the next few decades are California, Texas and Florida.
“Most of the young children ages 3-6 with vision problems today — which is about 174,000 children — are the result of simple uncorrected refractive errors,” said Rohit Varma, principal investigator of the Multi-Ethnic Pediatric Eye Disease (MEPEDS) study and director of the USC Roski Eye Institute, as well as dean of the Keck School of Medicine of USC. “Our research offers a comprehensive look at the prevalence of visual impairment in the U.S. preschool population.
There has been a lack of accurate data characterizing these eye health issues.
“We conducted this study because of concern about the future eye health of children since there has been a lack of accurate data characterizing these eye health issues.”
The new study used prevalence data from two major population-based studies, including MEPEDS — the largest undertaken examining childhood eye diseases — to determine demographic and geographic variations in visual impairment in children ages 3 to 5 years in the United States in 2015 and estimated projected prevalence through 2060.
USC researchers defined visual impairment as decreased visual acuity in the better-seeing eye in the presence of an identifiable ophthalmic cause.
The MEPEDS research led by Varma is also part of a collaborative international research effort with the Pediatric Eye Disease Consortium. This new data and additional findings from this consortium will be presented at the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology annual meeting, held May 7-11 in Baltimore.
The aim is to gain a better understanding of the pathophysiology of vision disorders among preschool children and also help develop evidence-based guidelines for population screening of common pediatric vision disorders, said Xuejuan Jiang, assistant professor of ophthalmology and preventive medicine at the USC Roski Eye Institute and one of the lead researchers on the study.
“This research is a bellwether that visual impairment in young children can be prevented or treated with low-cost solutions if we intervene at an early age,” Varma said. “If we don’t, the long-term effects of impaired vision at early childhood that can adversely impact academic and social achievements will put our future generations at a distinct disadvantage. This is a population health transformation imperative.”
The study was supported by grants from the National Eye Institute in Bethesda, Md., and unrestricted grants from Research to Prevent Blindness, New York. All authors have completed and submitted the ICMJE Form for Disclosure of Potential Conflicts of Interest and none were reported.