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Social Determinants of Health: Understanding Vision Health Equity

Public health professionals address barriers to vision care.

Early diagnosis and treatment could prevent half of all cases of vision impairment and blindness in the United States.1 That’s why the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), public health professionals, and a host of other organizations are working to improve access to vision care by addressing serious gaps in vision health equity.

“Did you know that social factors such as where a person lives and how much money a person makes can increase the risk of vision loss? These and other social determinants may be affecting vision health more than you know,” the CDC explains.2

What are the social determinants of health? They are the social factors that affect people’s health. The CDC identifies these five key social determinants of health: health and healthcare, social and community context, education, economic stability, and neighborhood and built environment.2

The CDC’s Vision Health Initiative (VHI) offers these examples to help us understand how the social determinants of health affect vision equity:2

  • Income: “People with lower incomes are less likely to have had preventive care, including an eye exam, or to be able to afford eyeglasses and are more likely to have vision loss due to diabetic retinopathy.”
  • Education: “People with less than a high school education are less likely to have had an eye care visit in the last year compared with people who have more than a high school education.”
  • Neighborhood: “Neighborhood safety could affect diabetes-related stress, physical activity, weight management, and blood sugar levels—all of which are risk factors for chronic conditions that can lead to vision loss.”
  • Access to care: “People living with a disability such as vision impairment or blindness report having more problems in accessing care, such as cost of care, availability of insurance coverage, transportation issues, and refusal of services by providers. People who have vision impairment are more likely to be uninsured compared with people who do not.”

Achieving Vision Health Equity

While there is no quick way to fix these systemic inequities, efforts like those of the VHI are dedicated to finding ways to close the gaps. VHI partner organizations are collecting data to assess the national scope of vision loss and impairment. They also plan to provide data on social determinants of health to help communities better address vision health equity among their citizenry.2

Improving services to detect and manage glaucoma, a leading cause of blindness in the U.S., is the focus of another program, Screening and Interventions for Glaucoma and Eye Health Through Telemedicine (SIGHT).

“By bringing eye care services to under-resourced communities, the SIGHT studies are addressing barriers such as unemployment; lack of health insurance; poverty; and inadequate educational systems, transportation, and community resources such as optometrists and ophthalmologists,” the VHI says.2

Efforts also are underway to establish permanent eye care resources in communities across the U.S. These include offering vision screening in health departments and clinics and via telehealth services.

Make Your Mark in Public Health Nursing

If you’re an RN with a passion for social change and eager to shift your focus to community health nursing, a public health nursing degree may be the path to the career you seek. One option for working nurses is Walden University’s Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) online degree program with a Public Health Nursing specialization.

Walden, No. 1 in Master of Science in Nursing graduates in the U.S.,3 offers an online MSN degree program that can get you education-ready for a public health nursing job while staying engaged in your career and family life. You can work wherever you have an internet connection. Just open your laptop and complete your coursework on your own weekly timetable.

Walden’s University’s online MSN degree program is accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE), an autonomous accrediting agency that ensures the quality and integrity of baccalaureate, graduate, and residency programs in nursing.

When you’re ready to work for health equity, get the knowledge and skills you need by earning a master’s in public health nursing online.

Walden University is an accredited institution offering an online Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree program with a Public Health Nursing specialization. Expand your career options and earn your degree in a convenient, flexible format that fits your busy life.

3Source: National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) IPEDS database. Based on the most recent year of completions survey data available, using CIP code family 51.38 “Registered Nursing, Nursing Administration, Nursing Research, and Clinical Nursing” for Master’s degrees (Award level 7). Available at (Retrieved January 2021; may consist of or include provisional release data.)

Walden University is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission,