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“Will being overweight affect my vision?”

“Will being overweight affect my vision?” This is a question I almost never hear. Maybe because most of us don’t think there is a relationship between body weight and our eyes. Obesity has become a major health concern globally in recent years with well-established evidence linking overweight to illnesses and early death.

If we review the scientific literature, it quickly becomes apparent that being overweight has a strong link to several eye conditions. Diabetes and  high blood pressure can cause significant changes to the eyes. Diabetic and hypertensive retinopathy can lead to profound vision loss if left untreated. First line management of each of these conditions is achieving and maintaining a healthy body weight.

Age-related macular degeneration is the leading cause of vision loss in Canada. There is no single cause of macular degeneration, but several excellent studies have shown obesity to be a significant risk factor for progression and severity of the disease.

A recent meta-analysis of six important studies reveals an association between obesity and cataract development, particularly posterior subcapsular cataracts which tend to occur at a younger age and develop more quickly.

Pseudotumour cerebri, retinal vascular occlusive disease, floppy eyelid syndrome, entropion, sleep apnea related eye disease and stroke related vision loss each have an association with obesity.

Overweight is just one of the “lifestyle” factors which influence health. Regular exercise, smoking cessation, healthy diet, adequate sleep and stress reduction also contribute to eye health.

The individual and societal factors that influence healthy weight management are numerous and have been discussed extensively in many circles. Weight management is a billion dollar industry with magical products, quick weight- loss programs, fads, celebrities, countless books and organizations. Medical management often includes counselling and in extreme cases, bariatric surgery. In most instances though, achieving and maintaining a healthy weight is a lifelong task assumed by the individual.

A local physician has just published a valuable resource for those willing to confront their disease.“Overweight is a Disease, A Canadian Doctor’s Prescription for Self-management”, by Dr. Lori Teeple, is a new book designed to be a key resource for those who struggle with overweight who wish to understand their disease and gain the skills necessary to self-manage for life.

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