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1.6Million school-aged children estimated to be living with an undetected vision problem

More than one and a half Million (1.6Million) school–aged children in England could be living with an undiagnosed vision problem that impacts on their educational and social development according to new figures released by National Eye Health Week and Boots Opticians.[1]

 

With up to eighty to eighty-five per cent of our perception, learning, cognition and activities facilitated through vision[2] it’s clear that the quality of a child’s eyesight plays a vital role in his or her development, especially in their early years.

 

A recent study by a team of UK academics published in the British Medical Journal found a clear link between visual ability in young children and reading and writing levels[3]. Children with reduced visual acuity – a measure of how well we view detail – had significantly lower literacy development even when other factors – such as demographic, socio-economic and cognitive skills – were taken into account.

 

Poor vision in younger children is often due to the presence of Amblyopia (lazy eye) – a developmental disorder that leads to reduced vision. The human eye continues to develop until we reach about eight years of age giving just a small window of time where good vision can be restored through early detection and treatment. Unfortunately, there are few signs and symptoms to observe so detection is very difficult for parents, carers and teachers.

 

David Cartwright Chairman National Eye Health Week continued: “As a child’s eyesight is usually fully developed by the age of eight, regular sight tests, every two years unless advised otherwise by your optometrist, are crucial. Sight tests for all children in the UK are free and funded by the NHS – the only investment parents have to make is time.

 

Conditions such as squint or amblyopia can lead to lifelong problems so it really is a case of ‘After Eight is too Late’. If detected early amblyopia and squint can often be corrected and other visual problems such as childhood myopia can be managed effectively, yet, fifty per cent of parents with children aged eight and under have never taken their child for a sight test[4].”

 

Levels of Myopia (short-sight), which typically occurs in childhood between the ages of six and 13, have more than doubled over the last 50 years and currently affect around a fifth of all teenagers in the UK.[5]

 

It's often difficult to tell if your child is having problems with their eyes but some tell-tale signs that there could be something wrong include struggling to recognise colours and shapes; frequently bumping into things; not showing any interest in learning to read; not progressing or being disengaged at school; complaining about headaches and sitting very close to the TV.

 

You may also recognise some physical signs, including:

 

  • Rubbing eyes frequently
  • Squinting, head-tilting or closing one eye when trying to focus
  • One eye turning in or out
  • Blinking a lot
  • Excessive tearing
  • Red, sore or encrusted eye lids

 

With a wealth of clinical evidence emerging to suggest that lifestyle factors can play a role in keeping children’s eyes healthy, including the importance of outdoor play in preventing the onset of myopia,[6] National Eye Health Week has joined forces with Boots Opticians to launch a guide to help to care for your child’s eyes.

 

This digital resource includes seven ways to help keep kids’ eyes healthy, tell-tale signs your child could be struggling with their vision and common childhood eye conditions explained. There are also links to resources such as the Boots Opticians eye check story book, Zookeeper Zoe which contains a range of interactive eye check activities to help parents and carers understand if their child might need support with their vision.

 

Commenting on the collaboration Karl Thomas, Customer Director, Boots Opticians said: “We want every child in the UK to be as happy and healthy as possible. We’ve had overwhelmingly positive feedback about Zookeeper Zoe and we’re delighted with stories we’re hearing around the joy that Zoe’s story brings, be that the simple act of reading, or in raising parents’ awareness of vision needs that in turn are resulting in a vision correction for their child.”

 

 “Good eyesight can be so important for a child’s development, so we want to ensure their vision is the best it can be, which is why we are printing more copies of Zookeeper Zoe and encouraging parents to take their children for an eye test to ensure that their children reach their full potential.”

 

Despite the UK National Screening Committee (NSC) recommending, universal vision screening for all children between the ages of 4 – 5 years by an orthoptic-led service an estimated 200,000+ children will miss out on this basic screening in the 2016/17 academic year as fewer than a third of local authorities in England provide this service[7] and where it does exist screening has been found to be patchy.

 

David Cartwright concludes: “Regular eye checks performed on your local high street, by a qualified optometrist and paid for by the NHS are vital to ensure kids live well and fulfil their potential in the classroom.”

 

Regional estimates for the number of school-aged chidren with an undetected vision problem

 

AREA

ESTIMATE

ENGLAND

1,597,091

EAST MIDLANDS

133,362

EAST OF ENGLAND

178,891

LONDON

263,212

NORTH EAST

74,016

NORTH WEST

209,136

SOUTH EAST

259,120

SOUTH WEST

146,646

WEST MIDLANDS

174,391

YORKSHIRE AND THE HUMBER

158,317

 

 

[1] Estimated using 2016 DfE School Census data and school vision survey conducted by Professor D Thomson, City University.  

   Median estimates used for purpose of this calculation

[2] Neuro-Optometric Rehabilitation Association

[3] Bruce A, Fairley L, Chambers B, et al. Impact of visual acuity on developing literacy at age 4 – 5 years: a cohort-nested  

  cross-sectional study. BMJ Open 2016

[4] Eyecare Trust State of the Nation’s Eyes Report

[5] Northern Ireland Childhood Errors of Refraction (NICER) study Ulster University and College of Optometrists 2016

[6] JAMA. 2015;314(11):1142-1148. doi:10.1001/jama.2015.10803

[7] College of Optometrists 2015