Obese Britain blind to risk of sight loss

As the UK’s obesity crisis burgeons, millions of overweight Brits are blind to the fact that their unhealthy lifestyles mean they are twice as likely to lose their sight as someone with a normal BMI (Body Mass Index).

A shocking new report launched by the sight charity Eyecare Trust and healthcare provider Simplyhealth to mark National Eye Week (9-15 November 2009) reveals that just eight per cent of us associate obesity with sight loss[1], despite weight being a major risk factor in the onset and progression of many sight-threatening eye conditions.

With more than half of all adults across the UK tipping the scales above their recommended weight and a staggering 23 per cent now classed as obese [2], millions of Brits are needlessly putting themselves at risk of poor vision or even worse – total sight loss.

Iain Anderson, Chairman of the Eyecare Trust warns: “Carrying excess weight causes pulmonary problems which can lead to irrevocable damage to the delicate blood vessels in the eye. A Body Mass Index of 30 or more doubles your risk of age-related macular degeneration – the UK’s leading cause of blindness – and significantly increases your chances of developing cataracts or glaucoma.”

The survey also found that people’s perceptions about weight – and in particular obesity – are seriously wide of the mark. For example, four fifths of those polled (82 per cent) believed a man of 6ft weighing 13st 3lb is healthy, when in fact he is overweight.

Iain continues: “While people are more likely to be aware of threat to eye health from factors such as smoking, excessive alcohol consumption or poor diet, they just don’t make the connection with obesity, which can also put people at risk of diabetic retinopathy whether or not they suffer from diabetes.” The strong links between obesity and eye disease have been affirmed by recent international research undertaken by eminent ophthalmologists in Israel and Singapore[3].

Regular sight tests are vital for the early diagnosis and treatment of these eye conditions, yet the National Eye Week ‘See the Benefit’ poll found that obese people were the group least likely to visit their optician. Worryingly, the survey reveals that those with a BMI in excess of 25 are most likely to believe their eyes are in a state of ‘good’ or ‘very good’ health[4].

Raman Sankaran of Simplyhealth says: “As well as lifestyle choices having an impact on eye health, the research also worryingly found that cost – or the issue of perceived cost – affects whether people attend regular sight tests. In fact 75 per cent of people admit to putting off having their eyes tested due to the price of the examination and the expense of glasses or contact lenses if needed. 

“Attending a sight test needn’t be expensive or act as a barrier to good eye health as there are many options available to help people budget for eyecare, such as a cash plan from Simplyhealth,” Raman adds.

The Eyecare Trust recommends that everyone has an eye examination every two years, unless advised otherwise by an optometrist. As well as providing a valuable insight into the health of your eyes a sight test also acts as an essential general health check uncovering a number of other underlying health problems such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes and an increased risk of stroke.

For more advice on how your weight can affect the quality of your vision and take an on-line sight test visit www.nationaleyeweek.co.uk.


Notes to editors

[1] The ‘Seeing the Benefit’ research study was conducted by Opinion Matters on behalf of the Eyecare Trust and Simplyhealth between 04 September 2009 – 14 September 2009. The survey canvassed the attitudes and behaviours of a nationally representative sample of 1,811 adults.

[2] Economic and Social Research Council, Diet and obesity in the UK.

[3] Professor Michael Belkin and Dr Zohar Habot-Wilner of the Goldschleger Eye Institure, Tel Aviv, and Tien Wong of the Singapore Eye Research Institute.

[4] To calculate your body mass index (BMI) simply divide your wight in kilogrammes by your height in metres squared. A BMI in excess of 25 means you are over weight and over 30 you are classified as obese.

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