Obese people twice as likely to go blind: 6 Sept. 2006

Summary: One million overweight adults in Scotland are at risk of sight loss.

The one million adults and 200,000 children in Scotland who are obese are at double the risk of losing their sight, according to a new report published today by the Royal National Institute of the Blind Scotland (RNIB Scotland) supported by Boots Opticians.

The "Feeling great, looking good" report reveals a direct link between obesity and some of the common eye conditions that cause blindness.

Barbara McLaughlan, RNIB Eye Health Consultant, said: "With a staggering one in five adults and children across the UK now considered to be obese, RNIB believes it is vital that people are made aware of the risks to their sight."

David Cartwright, Boots Opticians, said: "We estimate that in 2005, only one in four children and a third of adults had an eye test. Research shows that anyone who does not have an eye test at least once every two years is at risk of missing signs of specific eye conditions, or underlying systemic diseases such as high blood pressure or glaucoma, as revealed in the report.

Eye sight in jeopardy

Professional eye tests can pick up problems which can otherwise go undetected. John Legg, Director, RNIB Scotland said: "Most people wrongly assume that if they don't have any obvious problems with their sight, that everything must be fine. With the huge increase in obesity that we have seen in recent years, many people are now jeopardising their sight in later life."

The report states that oxidative damage associated with being obese doubles the risk of developing age-related macular degeneration (AMD), the leading cause of sight loss in the UK, and accelerates the speed of sight loss. In addition, people who are obese are at up to ten times more likely to develop diabetes, which leads to retinopathy in at least 60 per cent of cases, causing irreversible sight loss unless treated early. Finally, for people who are obese the risk of developing cataracts can be as high as double that of people who are not overweight.

The risk of obese children losing their sight later in life is very real given that more than 70 per cent of obese children and more than 85 per cent of obese adolescents become obese adults. The risk of sight loss through diabetes is also particularly high in people from ethnic minority backgrounds (Asian, African and African/Caribbean) who are four to five times more likely to develop diabetes.

Trish's story

Trish Richmond, 42, from Motherwell, is blind and blames her sight loss on being overweight. Trish, who is now 17 stone but peaked at 20 stone, has glaucoma and diabetic retinopathy (she also had cataracts) and sees absolutely nothing.

Trish, who is married and has three daughters, said: "I really want people to know how being overweight can lead to blindness. An eye test picked up the fact that I had glaucoma early enough to treat it. From then on I enjoyed around eight years of stable sight. I was still overweight when the second sight threatening condition, diabetic retinopathy, hit me. Being overweight, I also had high blood pressure which aggravated my glaucoma and combined with having retinopathy left me completely blind and unable to see anything. My message is simple - don't lose your sight through ignorance - watch your weight and have regular eye tests."

Avoidable sight loss

"Feeling great, looking good" is published as part of RNIB's Open your eyes campaign to end preventable sight loss by 2020.

John Legg said: "Sight is the sense we most fear losing but most people don't do nearly enough to look after their eyes. To safeguard sight we recommend people maintain a healthy weight, eat lots of fresh fruit and vegetables, take exercise to improve general health, don't smoke and most importantly have regular eye tests. Many thousands of people lose their sight each year through conditions that could have been treated if picked up early enough through an eye test."

Further information

'Feeling great, looking good' by Barbara McLaughlan, RNIB, published September 2006, is available from RNIB's Press Office.

Obesity is generally defined as a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or over, whereas a BMI of 25-29.9 indicates being overweight. A Panel advising the World Health Organisation has proposed that the risk of obesity-related diseases amongst the Asian community rises from a BMI of just 23.

RNIB is a member of VISION 2020 UK - an umbrella organisation of more than 40 organisations within the UK which focus on visual impairment. The organisation facilitates greater collaboration and co-operation between members and has an overall aim of ending avoidable sight loss in the UK by 2020

RNIB's Open Your Eyes Campaign is supported by Association of British Dispensing Opticians (ABDO), Association of Optometrists (AOP), The College of Optometrists, The Federation of Ophthalmic and Dispensing Opticians (FODO) and The General Optical Council (GOC)

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Last updated: 29/09/2006 11:12

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Trish's story - Trish Richmond, 42, from Motherwell, Scotland, blames her sight loss on being overweight. Trish, who is now 17 stone but peaked at 20 stone, has glaucoma and diabetic retinopathy. "My message is simple – don’t lose your sight through ignorance – watch your weight and have regular eye tests.” Trish's full story