Vision plays an important role in children’s physical, cognitive, and social development. More than one in five preschool-age children enrolled in Head Start have a vision disorder. Uncorrected vision problems can impair
child development, interfere with learning, and even lead to permanent vision loss; early detection and treatment are critical. Visual functioning is a strong predictor of academic performance in school-age children, and vision disorders of childhood may continue to affect health and well-being throughout the adult years.
The economic costs of children’s vision disorders are significant, amounting to $10 billion yearly in the United States.
This estimate takes into account the costs of medical care, vision aids and devices, caregivers, special education, vision screening programs, federal assistance programs, and quality of life losses. Families shoulder 45 percent of these costs—not including the value associated with diminished quality of life.
This report brings together information about the scope of the problem, national and state-level policy changes, and efforts to build comprehensive systems to promote vision and eye health. Recent research provides new estimates of the prevalence of vision disorders among U.S. children and new knowledge about factors affecting risk and access to needed services. Nationally, the Affordable Care Act has expanded access to vision insurance coverage, while state-level initiatives have strengthened vision screening and eye health programs. Working with national experts in clinical and public health, an Expert Panel to the National Center for Children’s Vision and Eye Health (NCCVEH) has released consensus guidelines for effective vision screening practices to ensure the early detection, diagnosis, and treatment of vision disorders for children 36 to 72 months of age.11 The guidelines also address systems for accountability and public health surveillance of children’s vision and eye health.
These steps are just the beginning. Much work remains to build awareness of the significance of vision disorders and to ensure that every state has a comprehensive system to promote vision and eye health. This report is intended as a tool to support those efforts.
February 2016 – Funder Statement: This project is/was supported by the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) under grant number H7MMC24738 – Vision Screening for Young Children Grant (total award amount $300,000; percentage financed with nongovernmental sources .5%). This information or content and conclusions are those of the author and should not be construed as the official position or policy of, nor should any endorsements be inferred by HRSA, HHS or the U.S. Government.