Blind World Magazine

Obesity linked with blindness.

December 31, 2005.
What is the word.

Scientists have warned that being overweight or obese may put to risk precious sight through unhealthy lifestyles. While it is commonplace that those with wider waistlines are prone to diabetes, heart disease and cancer, that they could be equally likely to suffer eye problems that lead to sight loss is a new idea. This revelation is from two ophthalmologists from Israel's Goldschleger Eye Institute at Sheba Medical Centre after reviewing over 20 different studies.

Professor Michael Belkin and Dr Zohar Habot-Wilner noted a strong connection between obesity and four major eye conditions - age-related macular degeneration, glaucoma, cataracts and diabetic retinopathy. Professor Belkin who teaches ophthalmology at Tel Aviv University said, "The purpose behind this review was to acquaint physicians and laypeople with the dangers of being fat as related to ophthalmology”. He noted that while many different studies exist, all their research has never been collated comprehensively.

While sight deteriorates with age, most common eye diseases cause diminishing of sight to an extent. Glaucoma is well known to cause damage to the optic nerve when neglected capable of precipitating loss of vision and permanent blindness. Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) on the other hand is degenerative condition that causes blurred vision and is associated with older people, whereas cataracts that cloud the vision could occur even in younger people. Diabetic retinopathy that arises as a result of diabetes is a well-known cause of sightlessness occurring due to damage to the retina's blood vessels.

Professor Belkin said that most studies point to those with high Body Mass Index (BMI) and being clinically obese as to being more prone to such diseases. Also as the conditions appear to progress more swiftly in obese people, the risks of blinding become far greater. In three of the four cited conditions the relationship between obesity and the conditions appeared to be owing to the pressure on the vascular system whereby the eyes' blood vessels get affected. The only unclear link was the relationship between obesity and cataract.

Cataract being a disease of the lens has no reason to be promoted in fat people according to Professor Belkin. He observed, "Nobody has the faintest idea why cataracts are affected”. The co-author of the study, Dr Habot-Wilner noted that in all probability it had something to do with the likelihood for fat people to develop gout that is also associated with cataract development. But rather than focussing on why and how these diseases were linked, the two researchers wanted to raise awareness of how obesity could precipitate blindness. They noted, “The message we want to send is that obesity can cause not just cancer and hypertension but also ocular disease”.

Yet this knowledge that fatness could be linked to loss of sight is “something that most ophthalmologists know” but so far is “not common knowledge as it should be”. The two researchers noted that, “It's the risk factor that no one talks about". Clearly and undeniably, obesity has a greater cost of failing health and senses that can be dangerous and debilitating. And only lifestyle changes or modified behavior could reduce such risks.

© 2005 What is the word.

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