Refer this article as: Oudghiri, R., Protection of eye health : what practices through out the world and what local specificities?, Points de Vue, International Review of Ophthalmic Optics, N71, Autumn 2014
Protection of eye health : what practices through out the world and what local specificities?
In 2014, the protection of eye health is a widespread practice worldwide. Yet there are behaviours specific to each country. A major international survey of 7,000 people conducted on four continents – Europe (France, Germany), North America (United States), South America (Brazil) and Asia (China, Japan, India) – revealed the similarities and differences of the various practices.
While eyes have always been seen as a precious asset, they are difficult to preserve throughout a lifetime. With the spectacular advances in ophthalmology in recent decades, it has become easier to improve and maintain one’s eyesight. In fact, far more information about eye health and safety is available than ever before. And in many countries, access to eye care specialists has greatly improved. Yet there are still areas for improvement worldwide because the question remains: at a time when we are bombarded with information, have we all become accustomed to protecting our eyes? What are the most widespread practices in today’s world? And are they evenly spread across all segments of the population?
To answer these questions, Ipsos conducted a major international survey on the following four continents in 2014  : Europe (France, Germany), North America (United States), South America (Brazil) and Asia (China, Japan, India). In each country, a sample of 1,000 people representative of the national population was surveyed (urban populations in China, India and Brazil). Overall, 7,000 interviews were conducted. In each country, the same indicators were measured, enabling researchers to compare perceptions and habits across different countries. In the end, it appears that protecting eye health is a widespread practice worldwide, but that public education on the issue differs from one country to another. The research supports the need for different communication and targeting strategies to continue improving the public’s well-being and eye health.
On a global scale, two-thirds of individuals take preventive measures to protect their eye health.
Interviewed about what they do to protect their eyesight, 68% of respondents said they take at least one preventive measure (see Fig. 1). Notable fact: this figure is comparable across countries. In countries such as China and Brazil, the health habits of the urban middle classes are increasingly dovetailing with those of populations in developed countries. There is only one noteworthy exception: in Japan, only 36% of respondents report taking one preventive measure.
The two pillars of prevention: sun protection and visiting a vision care specialist
How do people take care of their eyes? Two preventive measures particularly stand out worldwide. The wearing of sunglasses is the first measure. This is a well-established habit among 32% of respondents. Protecting the eyes from sun exposure is viewed as a very important health habit. Populations in France and the United States are most likely to be concerned about this issue. In these two countries, nearly one in two individuals reports wearing sunglasses to protect their eyes – 45% in France and 47% in the United States. The second most widespread preventive measure worldwide is visiting a vision care specialist. From this perspective, 30% of respondents believe there is nothing better than regular eye checks. It should be noted that people living in Western countries are much more likely to regularly visit a vision specialist: 48% in France, 41% in the United States and 31% in Germany. In Asia, regular checkups are much less common (11% in China and 7% in Japan).
Respondents reported other practices as well, but they are much less widespread and their intensity varies greatly from one country to another. It should be noted, however, that the ubiquitous presence of screens is encouraging the most exposed individuals to protect their eyes. This reflects the fact that computers and tablets are now an integral part of the workplace for a large number of people, with the proportion of those using lenses for protection from touch screens numbering on average one in ten individuals among the surveyed population.
Lastly, certain measures are specific to certain cultures. For example, in Asia (mainly India and China), a significant percentage of the population reports regularly eating certain foods that supposedly have a positive effect on eyesight (47% in India and 41% in China). This type of prevention measure is much less common in Western countries, where food is more likely to be associated with health benefits unrelated to vision health.
Fig. 1: Specific things people do for their eyes (in %)
Seniors and women are most concerned about protecting their eyesight
The survey confirms that certain segments are more concerned about protecting their eyes than the rest of the population. Not surprisingly, the older you get, the more likely you are to take steps to preserve your eyesight (see Fig. 2). Seventy-three percent (73%) of people over 50 report taking preventive measures compared to 66% of those under 35. Visiting an eye care professional is the factor that most differentiates the older population. While all generations have adopted the habit of wearing sunglasses, the practice of regularly visiting a vision specialist increases with age. Forty-one percent (41%) of people over 50 report doing so compared to only 25% of those under 35.
Another segment being proactive about caring for their eyes is women. For one thing, more women do something to protect their eyesight: 70% versus 65% of men (see Fig. 3). Secondly, they are significantly more proactive than men when it comes to most preventive measures. Far more women than men, for example, report wearing sunglasses when they are outside (37% vs. 28%). Women are also more likely to regularly see a vision specialist (33% vs. 27%). Similarly, they are more likely than men to report taking into account the ability of certain foods to protect their eyesight (26% vs. 22%). Last but not least, more women than men lubricate their eyes (17% vs. 12%).
In short, women are currently more aware than men and act accordingly. This is a tuned-in population, which means that women are also seeking information on long-term protection.
Eye care professionals: an intermediary role among healthcare providers
A more detailed breakdown of the figures concerning visits to eye care professionals shows that 37% of respondents reported seeing an ophthalmologist (optometrist in English-speaking countries) at least once a year and 29%, an optician. These figures are significant: on average, one-third of the population has contact with a vision specialist at least once a year. Yet when these figures are compared with those involving other specialists, it becomes clear that visits to other professionals are far more common. (Fig 4) This especially holds true when it comes to general practitioners, whom 63% of respondents report seeing at least once a year. And respondents report visiting dentists far more often than they do ophthalmologists. Fifty-nine percent report visiting an ophthalmologist at least once a year. Overall, eye care professionals rank behind dentists and, for women, gynaecologists. On the other hand, they rank ahead of dermatologists, osteopaths, cardiologists and nutritionists. Vision specialists play an important albeit intermediary role. In all of the survey’s countries, patients are much less likely to visit an eye care professional than a general practitioner, which is to be expected, but also far less likely than a dentist even though vision is a precious asset, as demonstrated by numerous surveys. For example, a survey conducted by Ipsos in 2013  among young people aged 15-30 showed that the eyes, after the teeth, were the part of the body considered most important to take excellent care of as early as possible. This opinion was consistent across Europe, the United States and China.
Europe ranks number one for the frequency of visits to general practitioners, while the number of visits to eye care professionals is relatively uniform among the other regions covered by the survey. Americans are most likely to get regular eye checkups and to see an ophthalmologist than any other nationality. In emerging countries, the urban and online population has greater access to vision professionals.
Lastly, while seniors are more likely than young people to visit specialists, a significant percentage of young people get regular checkups. This fact can undoubtedly be explained, in part, by the role played by parents and schools.
Differencies between age groups.
Fig. 2: Differencies between men and women
Fig. 4: Helthcare professionals they use to see
Women and seniors: populations more concerned about protecting their eyesight
In conclusion, it seems that while populations in most of the countries surveyed are aware of measures to protect their eyesight, certain segments are more committed. In particular, women and seniors are more likely to see vision specialists and on a more regular basis. As a result, they are priority targets for any prevention campaign. These results should also encourage eye care professionals to also target less committed populations, i.e. young people and men. This is a public health issue that requires more targeted information.