NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - A school-based program aimed at getting more Chinese teenagers with vision problems to buy glasses has failed, according to a new report.
The finding is a set-back for researchers working to improve visual health in a country where "nearly half of all vision impairment among children in the world" occurs, researchers write.
"It's tough, because we run glasses programs in schools, which is easy and very efficient as the kids are all together in one place," said Dr. Nathan Congdon, a professor at Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou, China, who worked on the study.
"The parents, though, are not effectively reached by school-based interventions," he said in an email to Reuters Health.
In China, two-thirds of near-sighted children do not correct their vision. This reluctance is less because of cost, and more because of the mistaken belief that glasses can harm vision or because purchasing glasses is an inconvenience, Congdon and his colleagues found in a previous study (see Reuters Health story from June 16, 2010).
To boost the number of near-sighted children wearing glasses, the team screened thousands of students in China for vision problems.
Of 3,200 teenagers who were advised to get glasses, about half participated in a program that included a cartoon movie explaining near-sightedness, a lecture that debunked the harms of wearing glasses and an exercise that illustrated how glasses could help them see. The other half was part of a comparison group where nothing was done.
The researchers expected that the program would increase the number of students who bought and wore glasses, but just 417 students in this group bought glasses, compared to 537 children in the comparison group.
More than 1,100 students who already had glasses -- but were recommended to get new ones -- didn't, primarily because they felt their current specs were sufficient. Similarly, most of the children who declined getting their first pair of glasses didn't see the need for them.
In the most serious cases, not wearing glasses when they are recommended can lead to amblyopia, or "lazy eye," in which one eye fails to develop proper vision. Additionally, children can suffer in school from not being able to read well.
Congdon said he thinks the program might have failed because the education was directed at students, rather than at parents.
"If I were to do this over, I would have meetings at school for the parents of kids with poor vision (the challenge is getting them to come), and also have follow-up calls to the families who don't come in to get their eyes checked," Congdon said.
Children in western countries who don't have adequate access to health care also struggle with uncorrected vision, Congdon said.
"Poor vision among children for any reason robs them of opportunities in school and in life. We shouldn't be willing to accept it," he said.
SOURCE: http://bit.ly/pyAv2i Ophthalmology, online September 1, 2011.