The incidence of visual impairment is on a rapid upswing. Projections show by the year 2020, four million people will be visually impaired (a 70 percent increase over the year 2000). An expanding aging population and the accompanying age-related diseases are contributing to the increase.
Researchers at the University of Wisconsin wanted to determine what factors might affect the increasing incidence of visual impairment. They decided to look at smoking, drinking alcohol and physical activity. The research was conducted as part of the Beaver Dam Eye Study, a long-term population-based cohort study, which looked at nearly 5,000 individuals ages 43 to 84 and spanned the years 1988 to 2013.
Researchers concluded regular physical activity and occasional alcohol use were associated with a lower incidence of visual impairment. During the study period, visual impairment occurred in 5.4 percent of the study population. Of the three lifestyle behaviors studied, two were associated with a decrease in incidence of visual impairment – individuals that stayed physically active and individuals that drank occasionally. Individuals that were physically active had a 58 percent decrease in the incidence of visual impairment while those that drank an occasional alcoholic beverage (average of one drink per week) had a 49 percent decreased risk.
As in any epidemiologic study, the conclusions that can be drawn are limited. No direct causal relationship between visual impairment and the two lifestyle behaviors can be made. The researchers still believe the data indicates ways people may be able to lessen their risk of becoming visually impaired through lifestyle changes.
Any change in your vision should be discussed with your eye care professional.
Jay Chapman, MD