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New Study Links Demographic Factors and Other Social Determinants of Health with Visual Impairment

by Daniel Parker, RDPFS Intern

A recent study published in JAMA Ophthalmology finds a correlation between various social determinants of health (SDOH) and severe visual impairment (SVI). According to an article from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, social determinants of health are defined as “the conditions in the environments where people are born, live, learn, work, play, worship, and age that affect a wide range of health, functioning, and quality-of-life outcomes and risks.” The objective of the study was to inform providers and insurers of priority populations and needs groups to develop more comprehensive eye care for those groups. Findings showed that race/ethnicity, employment status, socioeconomic status, and health care coverage all “correlated with higher odds of SVI.” More than 800,000 people voluntarily responded to the survey, which was conducted by telephone between January 2019 and December 2020. Of the respondents, 53.07 percent were female, and 5.17 percent reported some degree of visual impairment. Among the findings, the incidence of SVI was significantly higher among American Indian/Alaska Native, black or African-American, Hispanic and multiracial respondents than among those who identified as non-Hispanic white. The study also found a correlation between a household income of below $35,000 and increased incidence of SVI, as well as a marked decrease in incidence as incomes rose above $50,000. Those with the greatest likelihood of SVI had incomes of $10,000 or below, while those with the lowest incidence earned $75,000 or above. More respondents had SVI who did not complete high school compared to those who did; were unemployed for a year or more, retired, or unable to work; were widowed, separated or divorced; had a mental health diagnosis or self-reported mental health problems for at least half of each month; and had no health care coverage or could not afford to see a physician. More information is available in JAMA Ophthalmology’s abstract of the study on the “Association of Socioeconomic, Demographic, and Health Care Access Disparities With Severe Visual Impairment in the US” and a summary from AJMC (the American Journal of Managed Care) titled “Social Determinants of Health Associated with Severe Visual Impairment.” The full text of the study can be viewed by creating a free account under the JAMA Ophthalmology link above.