Grant will explore low vision’s impact on healthy lifestyle behaviors

People with vision impairments face substantial challenges in tasks of everyday living that can significantly limit their participation in healthy lifestyle choices.

DreerGrant2Laura Dreer, Ph.D.Laura Dreer, Ph.D., associate professor with the University of Alabama at Birmingham Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences, has been awarded a grant from the Obesity Health Disparities Research Center at UAB to examine how low vision impacts engagement in healthy lifestyle behaviors and weight management and risk of obesity.

People with vision impairments face substantial challenges in tasks of everyday living. These trials can significantly limit their participation in physical activity, healthy dietary intake/nutrition, and lifestyle behaviors. For example, vision loss often interferes with meal preparation, cooking, grocery shopping — all of which can impact healthy eating choices. Additionally, problems with restricted vision can also affect balance, mobility and orientation, limiting physical activity and routine exercise. 

As such, this type of sensory loss may be associated with unhealthy lifestyle choices that influence greater risk for obesity and secondary health conditions in comparison to individuals with good or adequate sight.

While there is a growing amount of scientific literature documenting the higher prevalence of obesity among people with physical or intellectual disabilities versus people without disabilities, there is a limited amount of obesity research specifically studying people with a sensory disability affected by limited or low vision. Further lacking is the availability of empirically validated weight management and lifestyle programs tailored to the challenges confronted by people with this particular disability.

Dreer and colleagues’ preliminary data supports this notion withthat weight classification prevalence rates ranging from 53 percent obese, 26.5 percent overweight and only 20.5 percent normal weight among those diagnosed with progressive eye diseases. These rates highlight the health disparity for obesity among persons with a vision-related disability compared to the national rates among those without a disability.

She said this public health issue is particular problematic in the Deep South where obesity rates are much higher compared to other regions of the country. 

Dreer and colleagues also found that higher body mass index scores, measured objectively, were significantly associated with being older and having a lower annual household income, poorer perception of health, minority race, greater number and type of chronic health conditions, slower physical activity levels and less intensity, greater sedentary behavior, greater worry over health, and poor sleep.

Greater vision impairment was significantly related to unhealthy lifestyle behaviors and sedentary behavior. However, on a promising note, 70 percent of the sample expressed an interest in losing weight and improving their health behaviors. 

As part of the new grant, Dreer and colleagues will expand upon this preliminary work by proposing to further understand the unique challenges related to limited or no vision that interfere with participating in important lifestyle behaviors that are critical for managing weight and overall health. Results will then be used in the second part of the project to inform the adaptation process of an evidence-based and theoretically driven lifestyle and health program tailored to the unique challenges this population. 

Local community partners will also participate in this innovative effort.

“The ultimate goal is to translate the resulting program into health, recreation or sport-related organizations and agencies locally and nationally,” she said. “Other formats people with for people with low vision can access from their home are also being developed.”

This grant is funded by the National Institute on Minority Health Disparities Research (NIMHD: U54MD000502) of the National Institutes of Health