Vision screening programs in schools could help 1 in 10 kids

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A school-based vision screening program in kindergarten, shown to be effective at identifying untreated vision problems in 1 in 10 students, could be useful to implement widely in diverse communities, according to new research in CMAJ (Canadian Medical Association Journal).

Vision problems can lead to amblyopia (known as “lazy eye”) and potential learning problems.

“These are practical details needed by ministries of health to make decisions about implementing school-based vision screening,” writes  Mayu Nishimura of McMaster’s Department of Psychology, Neuroscience & Behaviour and the Department of Ophthalmology and Vision Sciences at  The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids), Toronto, with coauthors.

Researchers offered vision screening to 5,884 children in junior and senior kindergarten at 43 schools in 15 Ontario communities from October 2015 to June 2017. Most children participated, and just under half of participants were referred for follow-up eye exams.

More than 10% of children (516) who were screened were found to have a visual problem during the follow-up eye exam, most (67%) for the first time. Amblyopia was found in 164 children (3.4%) and 458 (9.5%) were prescribed glasses.

“These numbers reveal that the status quo (in 2015-2017) was insufficient in identifying and treating young children with a visual problem before grade 1. The willingness of school boards and principals to participate in our study underlines the recognized need for better access to visual health care for kindergarten children,” write the authors.

Adequate follow-up care, such as visits to eye care professionals and glasses, appointment reminders and information about the importance of treatment are critical to ensure the success of a vision screening program.

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