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As Vision Problems in U.S. Rise, Diabetes May Explain Why
Date:12/12/2012

40 feet away. "You're not completely blind, but your vision is definitely impaired. You might have trouble getting a driver's license in some states, and it might affect your work," she said.

Ko and her colleagues reviewed data from the U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) that was collected from 1999 to 2002 and from 2005 to 2008. NHANES is a nationally representative sample, and about 10,000 people completed surveys in each time period.

The incidence of visual impairment increased from 1.4 percent in 1999 to 2002 to 1.7 percent in 2005 to 2008, a 21 percent increase. At the same time, the rate of visual impairment in white people between the ages of 20 and 39 increased by 40 percent, from 0.5 percent to 0.7 percent, according to the study.

Age increased the risk of visual impairment by 5 percent to 7 percent, depending on the time period, while poverty more than doubled the risk in both time periods, the investigators found.

During the study time periods, the overall rate of diabetes lasting more than 10 years increased by 22 percent. (The study didn't differentiate between type 1 and type 2 diabetes, though Ko said she thought most probably had type 2 diabetes.) Between 1999 and 2002, having longstanding diabetes increased the risk of visual impairment by 93 percent. In 2005 to 2008, having diabetes for 10 years or more increased the odds of visual impairment by more than 2.5 times.

Commenting on the findings, Dr. Vivian Fonseca, president of medicine and science at the American Diabetes Association, said: "In this study, the odds ratio is pretty high for visual impairment and diabetes, especially diabetes lasting 10 years or more. But, in other studies, we've seen a fall in the rate of diabetic retinopathy. What's changed is the denominator. The overall prevalence of diabetes has gone up and the sheer volume of people with diabetes makes it look like things are getting worse."

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