Who has the best and worst eyesight in the OECD?

Eliza Buglar

Sep 29, 2021

Latvia leads the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) as the country with the highest actual percentage of vision loss at 24.6% of the population.1

That’s according to the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness (IAPB) Vision Atlas, a compilation of data and interactive maps detailing eye health around the world,2 which also shows that 0.4% of Latvians are blind.

It also says that, based on the latest data available from each country:

  • Italy has the greatest percentage of blindness;
  • Belgium has the greatest percentage of glasses wearers; and
  • Israel and the United States of America have the lowest percentage of vision loss.

At home in Australia, around 5.3% of the of the population experience vision loss.

Worldwide, 1.1 billion people experience vision loss, with 90% of cases being preventable or treatable.

– IAPB, 2020

There are many different factors that influence eye health, so we decided to gather the data on various eye health indicators for countries in the OECD. We used the latest available information published within the last 10 years to create this table.

Take a look at the data below and see how your country stacks up!

So, who has the worst eyesight?

As you can see from the data, no single country takes the title of worst eyesight across all the indicators. For instance, while Latvia has the highest prevalence of vision loss, Italy has the highest rate of blindness at 0.8% of the population.1 Belgium also has the highest percentage of glasses wearers in the OECD (based on the available data) at 70% of the population.3

Likewise, there isn’t one country that stands out as having the best eyesight, either. Israel and the US both tie in first place for the lowest crude prevalence of vision loss at five per cent of their populations each,1 and Estonia comes out on top with the lowest rate of glasses use in the OECD at 20% of their people.

Another interesting point from the data is that the UK has the lowest number of ophthalmologists per million people out of the OECD countries, at 22 per million.3 However, the UK has seen an ophthalmologist shortage in recent years, caused by an increase in demand due to an ageing population.4

South Korea and Denmark would appear to be at the opposite end of the scale. With 585.1 and 529 optometrists per million of the population respectively, these two countries are miles ahead of the rest of the OECD;1,3 the closest ratio of optometrists to people after those two countries is in Italy, where they have 364 of the eye health professionals per million people in their population.3

A global problem

Vision loss and impairment is a growing problem around the world, not just in the OECD. According to the IAPB, around 1.1 billion people worldwide have vision loss – and that number is predicted to rise to 1.7 billion by 2050.5

Vision impairment affects 2.2 billion people worldwide, and almost half of these cases were preventable or have not yet been treated.6 The leading causes of vision impairment globally include:

  • Uncorrected refractive errors. A refractive error is when your eye’s shape impedes light on your retina due to a disorder.7 Such disorders can include myopia (short sight) and hyperopia (long sight). Refractive errors can be corrected through surgery and aids like glasses and contacts.
  • Cataract. A cataract occurs when your eye’s lens becomes cloudy in one or both eyes, which leads to less light entering your eye and therefore blurred vision.7 The condition is brought on by the protein in your eye changing. It’s commonly thought of as age-related (although cataracts can also be caused by diseases like diabetes, as well as eye injuries and medications).
  • Age-related macular degeneration. The macular, located in the retina, is responsible for providing clear, central vision.7 However, it can break down and degenerate over time with age. When your macular degenerates, the centre of your field of vision becomes blurred or even disappears entirely.
  • Glaucoma. Glaucoma manifests as pressure on your eye, which causes damage to your retina and optic nerve, which in turn leads to a progressive loss of your peripheral vision.7 There are several different types of glaucoma, and they can be difficult to detect and treat. Still, it’s thought that ocular hypertension (when the pressure inside the eye is abnormally high) can be an early indicator that you may develop glaucoma.
  • Diabetic retinopathy. Diabetes can cause vision loss through damage to your retina.7 Your retina’s blood vessels can be affected by elevated blood sugar levels, which can cause the vessels to bleed or leak and thus impacting the retina – and reducing your vision.
  • Corneal opacity. When the cornea (the transparent front on the eyeball) is scarred, it loses its transparency and becomes opaque, preventing light from entering the eye.8 It can be caused by things like eye swelling, injuries, corneal scratches or infections.
  • Trachoma. Trachoma is a bacterial infection that causes scarring and inflammation underneath your eyelids.7 Scarring can build up over time if you frequently contract trachoma infections, and it can cause your eyelids to turn inwards and rub the cornea with the eyelashes. This continued rubbing can cause the cornea to become clouded from the scars and impair your vision, if not lose it entirely.

Tips for your eye health

Your vision is an important part of your health, so taking good care of your eyes is a sensible thing to do. Here are some tips, tricks and ways you can maintain your eye health.

  1. Use eye protection. Sunglasses can help protect your eyes from ultraviolet light emitted by the sun, which can lead to cataracts and age-related macular degeneration.9 It’s also a good idea to wear eye protection when doing things like gardening, playing sport, using chemicals or working in any other environment where there’s a risk of stuff getting in your eye.
  2. Maintain your overall health. Keeping to a healthy diet (leafy greens and fish are particularly good for your eyes), staying active and avoiding smoking can all benefit your eye health – as well as your general health!10
  3. Don’t strain your eyes. When using screens, keep a good arm’s length distance from them; don’t bring them right up to your face!9 Rest your eyes every 20 minutes by looking away from the screen for 20 seconds. And don’t look directly into the sun, either!
  4. Get regular eye tests. It’s recommended that you see an optometrist for an eye test every two years.9 That way, they can make sure your eyes are kept in good nick and detect any eye problems you may develop, possibly before you even notice anything.11

Methodology: Explanation of indicators

After consultation with reputable eye health organisations and institutions (including the Australian College of Optometry, Fred Hollows Foundation and Queensland Eye Institute), these eye health indicators were chosen to be included in the data collation as they consisted of the most meaningful data available to us.

Percentage of vision loss

The crude prevalence (actual percentage) of all four vision loss levels in a country’s population: near, mild, mod-severe and blindness.12

Percentage of blindness

The crude prevalence (actual percentage) of blindness within a country’s population.12

Percentage of glasses wearers

The percentage of a country’s population that wears glasses.

Percentage of contacts wearers

The percentage of a country’s population that wears contact lenses. These numbers can overlap with the portion of the population who wear glasses, as some people may use more than one vision correction aid.13

Optometrists per million

The number of optometrists (responsible for eye examinations and treatment of eye health problems)14 per million people, which is also known as the density.15

Ophthalmologists per million

The number of ophthalmologists (who deal with the medical side of eye health, including surgery, medicine and prescriptions)16 per million people.15

Cataract surgeries per million

The number of cataract surgeries per million people in a year is known as the cataract surgery rate (CSR) and measures the quantity of cataract services.17

Sources

1 Bourne R, Steinmetz J, Flaxman S, et al., Trends in prevalence of blindness and distance and near vision impairment over 30 years: an analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study. Lancet Glob Health. 2020. Accessed via the IAPB Vision Atlas (https://www.iapb.org/learn/vision-atlas). Accessed February 2021.
2 IAPB Vision Atlas – About: The IAPB Vision Atlas. Accessed March 2021.
3
European Council Optometry and Optics – ECOO Blue Book 2020. Published October 2020. Accessed January 2021.
4
The Royal College of Ophthalmologists – New RCOphth Workforce Census illustrates the severe shortage of eye doctors in the UK. Published January 2019. Accessed March 2021.
5
IAPB – Updated Vision Atlas shows 1.1 billion people have vision loss. Published October 2020. Accessed March 2021.
6
WHO – Blindness and vision impairment. Published February 2021. Accessed March 2021.
7
The Fred Hollows Foundation – Glossary of eye conditions. Accessed March 2021. 
8
UVA Health – Corneal Opacity. Accessed March 2021.
9
Title: Eye care. Published by: healthdirect. Last reviewed: December 2019. Accessed: March 2021.
10
Courtesy: National Eye Institute, National Institutes of Health (NEI/NIH) – Keep Your Eyes Healthy. Last updated March 2020. Accessed March 2021.
11
Title: Eye tests. Published by: healthdirect. Last reviewed: April 2020. Accessed: March 2021.
12
IAPB Vision Atlas – About: Definitions. Accessed March 2021.
13
The Vision Council – VisionWatch Market Update. By Steve Kodey. Published January 2021. Accessed February 2021.
14
Better Health Channel – Eye care – optometrists. Last reviewed April 2015. Accessed March 2021.
15
Wiley Online Library – The number of optometrists is inversely correlated with blindness in OECD countries. By Einat Shneor, Michal Isaacson, Ariela Gordon‐Shaag. Published October 2020. Accessed January 2021.
16
Title: What does an ophthalmologist do? Published by: healthdirect. Last reviewed: September 2020. Accessed: March 2021.
17
US National Library of Medicine: Community Eye Health Journal – Cataract surgical rates. Published 2017. Accessed March 2021.

Brought to you by Compare the Market: Making it easier for Australians to search for great deals on their Health Insurance.