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As the UK’s obesity crisis burgeons, millions of overweight people in the Midlands are blind to the fact that their unhealthy lifestyles mean they are twice as likely to lose their sight as someone with a normal Body Mass Index.

A shocking new report launched by the sight charity Eyecare Trust and healthcare provider Simplyhealth to mark National Eye Week (9-15 November 2009), reveals that just eight per cent of us associate obesity with sight loss, despite weight being a major risk factor in the onset and progression of many sight-threatening eye conditions.

With more than half of all adults in the Midlands tipping the scales above their recommended weight and a staggering 23 per cent now classed as obese, millions of people are needlessly putting themselves at risk of poor vision or even worse – total sight loss.

Saagar Hirani, an Optometrist with Edmonds & Slatter Opticians in Blaby warns: “Carrying excess weight causes pulmonary problems which can lead to irrevocable damage to the delicate blood vessels in the eye. A Body Mass Index (BMI) of 30 or more doubles your risk of age-related macular degeneration – the UK’s leading cause of blindness – and significantly increases your chances of developing cataracts or glaucoma.”

The survey also found that people’s perceptions about weight – and in particular obesity – are seriously wide of the mark. For example, four fifths of those polled believed a man of 6ft weighing 13st 3lb is healthy, when in fact he is overweight. What’s more, only 14 per cent of people in the Midlands believed themselves to be obese, when the reality is that obesity now afflicts almost a third of UK adults.

Mr Hirani continues: “While people are more likely to be aware of threat to eye health from factors such as smoking, excessive alcohol consumption or poor diet, they just don’t make the connection with obesity, which can also put people at risk of diabetic retinopathy whether or not they suffer from diabetes.”

Regular sight tests are vital for the early diagnosis and treatment of these eye conditions, yet the National Eye Week ‘See the Benefit’ poll found that obese people were the group least likely to visit their optician, while 10 per cent of adults in the Midlands admit that they have never visited an optician. Worryingly, the survey reveals that those with a BMI in excess of 25 are also most likely to believe their eyes are in a state of ‘good’ or ‘very good’ health.

The research also found that cost – or the issue of perceived cost – affects whether people attend regular sight tests. In fact 75 per cent of people owned up to putting off having their eyes tested due to the price of the examination and the expense of glasses or contact lenses if needed.

“When you remember that eyecare is a professional service the cost is remarkably good value compared, say, to having your car serviced,” adds Mr Hirani, “but that doesn’t necessarily make it any easier to afford in these tough economic times. At Edmonds and Slatter we firmly believe that cost should not be a barrier to people enjoying good eye health or lifelong good vision. “Many people are still not sure what they are entitled to on the NHS and we would be happy to explain the entitlements.”

The Eyecare Trust recommends that everyone has an eye examination every two years, unless advised otherwise by an optometrist. As well as providing a valuable insight into the health of your eyes a sight test also acts as an essential general health check which can reveal a number of other underlying health problems such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes and an increased risk of stroke.

For any further advice or to book a sight test please contact Edmonds and Slatter’s Blaby practice on 0116 277 7733.