About 146 million people worldwide had diabetic retinopathy in 2014, according to a new report from the World Health Organization (WHO) called the World Report on Vision. That number is believed to have risen since then, and is expected to continue to rise over the next decade.
To get cutting-edge diabetes news, strategies for blood glucose management, nutrition tips, healthy recipes, and more delivered straight to your inbox, sign up for our free newsletter!
Retinopathy — caused by damage to the small blood vessels in your eyes from years of exposure to elevated blood glucose levels — is one of the leading causes of impaired vision worldwide, the report notes. It’s also largely preventable, since early detection of diabetes and good blood glucose management can prevent or significantly delay its development. Out of the estimated 2.2 billion people in the world with vision impairment, at least 1 billion have problems that could have been prevented or haven’t been addressed, according to the report.
Perhaps most alarmingly, the report estimates that if current trends in diabetes continue — with type 1 and especially type 2 diabetes on the rise worldwide — there will be over 180 million people with diabetic retinopathy by 2030. That’s nearly a 24% increase during a period of only 16 years.
The report urges governments and health organizations to take actions that encourage greater screening and prevention measures not just for diabetic retinopathy, but for other leading causes of vision loss. This will be an enormous challenge for many countries and regions, since an aging population will need more eye care at the same time that an urbanizing population is undergoing lifestyle changes that lead to higher rates of diabetes.
A freelance health writer and editor based in Wisconsin, Phillips has a degree in government from Harvard University. He writes on a variety of topics, but is especially interested in the intersection of health and public policy.