Release date: Embargoed until 00:01hrs 24 September 2018
Britain’s Blind Spots Revealed
New health map highlights areas of the UK at greatest risk of sight loss
A new map produced by Eye Health UK, the charity responsible for running National Eye Health Week (24 – 30 September), highlights areas of UK – including Barking and Dagenham, Reading, Swansea, Nottingham and Newcastle – where poor lifestyle habits and inadequate health screening are putting residents at serious risk of sight loss.
There are a million people in the UK currently living with ‘avoidable’ sight loss – leaving them unable to do things such as drive. Forecasters predict this figure could rise by a third by 2030, if action isn’t taken now.
Prevention and early diagnosis of common eye conditions are key to reducing the number of people suffering sight loss unnecessarily” explains David Cartwright Chairman of Eye Health UK “however, in towns and cities like Bristol, Liverpool, Luton and Manchester we are seeing a worrying number of people failing to take up their entitlement to free NHS sight tests and displaying high levels of smoking and obesity – two lifestyle factors linked to sight loss.”
Lifestyle habits impact your eye health regardless of your genetic predisposition. Being physically active has been shown to reduce your risk of visual impairment by 58 per cent versus somebody with a sedentary lifestyle; whilst a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 30+ has been linked to the four most common causes of sight loss: macular disease, glaucoma, cataract and diabetic retinopathy.
Research published in the British Medical Journal reveals as many as one in five cases of Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD), the UK’s leading cause of blindness, are caused by tobacco consumption. Making smoking directly responsible for around 120,000 cases of AMD in Britain today.
Poor uptake of regular eye tests is another big risk to the nation’s eye health. Almost 14 million (13.8) of us fail to have our eyes checked once every two years, as recommended, and one in 10 of us have never had our eyes checked.
Cathy Yelf, CEO of the Macular Society said: “Age-related macular degeneration is the biggest cause of blindness in the UK, affecting 600,000 people. By 2050 this number is expected to double. It is an urgent public health issue. Regular eye tests can detect Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD) early, which is crucial in preserving vision and the quality of life of patients.”
“If you are told you have early AMD, there are some things you can do to reduce the likelihood of the disease progressing.” says Yelf. “If you smoke, stop. Smokers are four times more likely to develop AMD than non-smokers. Smoking kills the cells of the retina, reduces the delivery of oxygen and nutrients to the eye and damages blood vessels. Smoking causes AMD to progress faster and makes treatment less effective.
“Take moderate exercise to maintain a healthy weight and normal blood pressure and eat a healthy diet with plenty of fruit and vegetables, especially green, leafy vegetables. These contain nutrients that are thought to be important to eye health.”
The introduction NHS funded eye tests for everyone in Scotland in April 2006 has helped reduce the risk of avoidable sight loss north of the border where uptake of eye tests has risen by around 30 per cent over the last decade. However, health inequalities still exist here with high prevalence of poor lifestyle habits linked to poor eye health.
Eye Health UK has created an online calulator to help people assess how their lifestyle may be affecting their eye health and provide advice on ways to reduce their risk of suffering unnecessary sight loss. http://www.visionmatters.org.uk/looking-after-your-eyes/eye-...
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Notes to Editors:
This map was created for Eye Health UK by Experian. It uses a correlation of key factors (eye test uptake, smoking, exercise, obesity, healthy eating and alcohol consumption) associated with avoidable sight loss. Factors were weighted as follows: eye test uptake (50%); lifestyle behaviours (50%) (smoking - 20%, exercise - 20%, obesity - 20% healthy eating - 20% and alcohol consumption – 20%). Data sources include lifestyle variables from the Experian’s Mosaic geo-demograhic segmentation tool, Health and Social Care Information Centre statistics; Information Services Division, NHS Scotland data; NHS ophthalmic statistics from Welsh Govt plus Health and Social Care Northern Ireland data. For a full list of citations contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Towns and cities of the UK with the highest risk of avoidable sight loss due to low uptake of eye tests and high prevalence of poor lifestyle
Barking and Dagenham
Brighton and Hove
Derry and Strabane
Isle of Wight
Newcastle upon Tyne
Weymouth and Portland
National Eye Health Week’s six simple sight savers
1. Quit smoking. Smokers have a significantly greater risk of sight loss than non-smokers. Toxic chemicals in tobacco smoke can damage the delicate surface and the internal structure of the eye. This can lead to an increased risk of many eye conditions including AMD; nuclear cataracts; thyroid eye disease; dry eye and impaired colour vision.
2. Eat right for good sight. Most of us have no idea that what we eat can affect how well we see, however, eye-friendly nutrients found in many fruit and vegetables and fatty acids derived from fish, nuts and oils can all help protect your sight. Vitamins B and E can help protect against cataracts whilst Omega-3 fish oils help maintain healthy blood vessels inside the eye.
3. Watch your weight. More than half of all British adults are overweight however maintaining a healthy weight helps preserve macula pigment density, which in turn, helps protect the retina against the breakdown of cells and the onset of AMD. Obesity also puts you at increased risk of diabetic retinopathy and damage to blood vessels in the eye caused by excess body weight has been linked to glaucoma.
4. Get fit. Aerobic exercise can help increase oxygen supplies to the optic nerve and lower any pressure that builds up in the eye. Reducing intraocular pressure can help control conditions such as glaucoma.
5. Cover up. Exposure to UV light can increases your risk of developing macular degeneration and cataract. In fact, frequent use of sunglasses has been associated with a 40 per cent decrease in the risk of posterior sub-capsular cataract. Always wear sunglasses when the UV index rises above three and check your sunglasses filter AT LEAST 99 per cent of UVA and UVB light. Look out for a CE or British Standard or UV 400 mark when choosing your sunglasses as this indicates they provide adequate UV protection.
6. Be screen smart. On average, we spend more than eight hours a day staring at a screen so it’s no surprise that 90 per cent of us say we experience screen fatigue – tired or irritated eyes, blurred vision, headaches and poor colour perception. Avoid eye strain by using the 20-20-20 rule, especially if you’re using a computer for long periods of time. Look 20 feet in front of you every 20 minutes for 20 seconds.
About National Eye Health Week
National Eye Health Week takes place between 24 – 30 September 2018. It is supported by a wide range of public health bodies, charities, organisations and individuals aims to raise awareness of the importance of good eye health and the need for regular eye tests for all. Official Partners of the Week include: Optrex, Vision Express, SPECS Network, Specsavers and Macular Society.
 State of the Nation’s Eyes report 2017 [http://rnib.org.uk/state-nation-2017]
 Kristin J. Myers et al. Ophthalmology Journal  Vol 122 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4047137/
 The body mass index (BMI) is a measure that uses your height and weight to work out if your weight is healthy. The BMI calculation divides an adult's weight in kilograms by their height in metres squared.
 British Medical Journal, Vol. 328, S. 537
 Calculated using Macular Society AMD prevalence data
 Generation Eye Report, Eye Health UK sponsored by Specsavers
 Delcourt C et al. Light exposure and the risk of corticol, nuclear and posterior subcapsular cataracts: the Pathologies OculairesLiees a l’Age (POLA) study. Arch Ophthalmol, 2000: 118:385-92
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