Chronic Disease and Vision Health

Chronic Vision Diseases

A Robert Woods Johnson analysis ranks eye disorders as the seventh leading chronic condition—requiring ongoing treatment and management for the duration of one’s life— across all age groups. Vision loss is not just an acute condition—even refractive errors require lifelong management and correction with the use of corrective lenses. Chronic health conditions can lead or contribute to vision problems and poor eye health or exist as a comorbid condition with vision problems.


Diabetes is a significant cost driver in our national health care system, and is incredibly consequential on personal finances, quality of life, and productivity for patients who live with the disease. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Diabetes Statistics Report for 2020 indicates that 34.2 million Americans have diabetes and 88 million adults have prediabetes. Diabetes is the leading cause of blindness in adults with significant disparities in prevalence of Type 2 diabetes across racial and ethnic minorities. Patients who have diabetes may often be unaware of the damage occurring to their eyes, specifically in the early stages, which makes early detection, disease monitoring, and treatment of diabetes-related eye disease a significant public health priority as early detection and treatment can help lower the risk of blindness by 90%. The National Eye Institute estimates that more than 2 in 5 Americans with diabetes are at some stage of diabetes-related retinopathy. Other blinding eye diseases such as cataract, glaucoma, and retinal detachment are also prominent in patients with diabetes.

Public policy efforts around diabetes typically center upon whole-disease strategies such as ensuring patients can access affordable health care through public or private coverage options, lowering costs of insulin and prescription drugs, increasing funding for diabetes research at the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases at the National Institutes of Health as well as public health programs at the Division of Diabetes Translation (DDT) at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and promoting prevention through public education and community-based health care strategies. These efforts align with Prevent Blindness’s advocacy priorities of ensuring the CDC’s Vision Health Initiative, which is housed within the DDT, secures the resources necessary to determine prevalence estimates on diabetes-related eye disease and develop evidence-based guidelines around early detection, disease monitoring, and treatment. Increasingly, social determinants of health and health equity as related to diabetes are gaining increased attention in health policy, which are also priorities for Prevent Blindness advocacy with respect to vision and eye health.