Reporting on health and quality of life in South LA

Income, education affect people's ability to get eye care: study

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A new study found that people who earn less and don't have a high school diploma are less likely to have access to vision care, leaving them vulnerable to age-related eye conditions.

Age-related eye conditions like cataracts, glaucoma and macular degeneration are preventable, treatable and even reversible – but only if you have access to an eye doctor.

A new study appearing in JAMA Ophthalmology reinforces the notion that folks on the lower end of the educational and socioeconomic scales are less likely to have access to eye care, leaving them with little to no access to interventions that can preserve or repair their vision.

Other research has found that access to vision care is an important determinant in whether people maintain good eyesight and visual health.

In South Los Angeles, access to both optometrists and ophthalmologists is extremely limited. That's in part because vision care is usually part of an employer-provided insurance package, something a lot of southside residents don't have.

The other option would be to pay for vision insurance out-of-pocket, said Nina Vaccaro, the executive director of the Southside Coalition of Community Health Centers, who noted that's "not a priority for most people."

"Those are services that, for most of us, we only need once every few years," said Vaccaro in an interview late last year. Those are also services come in particularly handy when conditions like cataracts, glaucoma or macular degeneration start popping up.

But besides that, Vaccaro said people in South L.A. have more important things to think about.

"People probably prioritize paying their rent, paying their car insurance, putting food on the table, getting school supplies for their kids," she said. "Within the safety net, buying any kind of insurance is a luxury."

The study in JAMA Ophthalmology found that people who had lower incomes or less than a high school education were less likely to report visiting an eye doctor or getting an eye exam. The Los Angeles Times says in South L.A., more than 50 percent of residents who are 25 and older don't have a high school diploma, and more than 40 percent of area households make $20,000 or less annually.

"There is a need for increased awareness about the relationship between social circumstances and [age-related eye disease] and for more research to determine how income and educational inequalities affect health-seeking behavior at the community and individual level over time," wrote the authors in their conclusion.

In South L.A., there's also a disparately high rate of diabetes – about 12 percent of the adult population has the condition, which raises people's risk of vision problems and even blindness.

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