Study: Where kids struggle for proper eye care

August 22, 2016  //  FOUND IN: Our Employees

Children are less likely to be diagnosed with crossed eyes, a condition known as strabismus, if they live in poor communities, according to an analysis led by researchers at U-M’s Kellogg Eye Center.

It’s cause for concern because strabismus can lead to permanent vision loss if not treated early in life, not to mention the negative impact it has on a child’s self-image.

The study led by Joshua Ehrlich, M.D., M.P.H., Joshua D. Stein, M.D., and their colleagues, highlights unequal access to proper eye care and suggests more support is needed in schools and communities.

Highlights from the study, which was recently published in Ophthalmology:

  • White children were twice as likely as black and Hispanic children to be detected with strabismus, a difference that biological factors could not explain.
  • In Flint, Michigan, a city where a cost-cutting move put children at risk for lead poisoning, and in Detroit, strabismus was diagnosed much less often than in the more affluent Detroit suburbs.   
  • In more affluent cities such as Grand Rapids and Traverse City, children were diagnosed at much higher rates.  

“Schools in less affluent communities may not have the resources to offer vision screenings. Families may struggle to find local eye care specialists who accept Medicaid and are willing and able to evaluate a child who failed a vision test,” said Ehrlich, the lead study author and a fellow in ophthalmology at U-M.

The study covered children 10 and younger living in Michigan and North Carolina who were identified through the Medicaid Analytic eXtract database. The database includes health insurance claims data for all children enrolled in Medicaid throughout the U.S. 

“Identifying communities with relative increases and decreases in the likelihood of sight-threatening childhood eye diseases can be of critical importance to health policymakers who are tasked with improving the health and well-being of children and reducing disparities in childhood ocular diseases,” said Stein, an associate professor of ophthalmology and a member of the Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation.