Obesity’s Effects on Diabetic Retinopathy, Cataracts and Eye Disease

effect of obesity on eye healthThe obesity epidemic may have an impact on the health of the eyes. While scientific studies do not seem to have found a direct link between obesity and eye disease, maintaining a healthy weight supports your overall health and helps prevent diseases that can harm the eyes. Here’s why.

Obesity is a step up from “overweight.” The National Institute of Health (NIH) in the United States, commonly uses Body Mass Index (BMI). This is a ratio of height to weight. Overweight is a BMI of 25-29, and obesity is a BMI of 30 or more. For example, 5′ 7″ person who weighs 160 pounds would have a BMI of 25 (just barely overweight). This same person at 195 pounds would have a BMI of 30 (obese) and at serious risk of disease such as heart disease, cardio-vascular disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes and lower-body joint problems.

A research analysis at the University of Melbourne in Australia did not find evidence that obesity directly caused cataracts. However, it did find studies that associated the obesity with an increased risk of cataracts, especially posterior subcapsular cataract. Macular degeneration (AMD) risk was lowest in men with a normal BMI–men with high BMIs and low BMIs were at a higher risk.

The development of glaucoma involves an elevated intraocular pressure. There is strong evidence that obesity is associated with elevated intraocular pressure; however, a direct association has not been made between obesity and glaucoma.

Diabetic retinopathy affects approximately 50% of all Americans with diabetes. The retina is damaged by the disease. Proper disease management is essential. If diabetic retinopathy is treated properly, most casts of diabetic retinopathy do not result in blindness. Approximately 6% of diabetics actually go blind. Prevention depends on using medications correctly, checking blood sugar as recommended by the doctor, maintaining a healthy lifestyle, and having a proper diet and using appropriate supplementation for diabetes.

Type II Diabetes is a very common complication of obesity in both adults and even children. The overweight body can become “insulin resistant” and therefore cannot produce enough insulin to properly regulate blood sugar. Developing diabetes puts a patient at risk of diabetic retinopathy.

Interestingly, the Australian analysis found scientific support for abdominal obesity as risk factor for retinopathy in people with and without diabetes. It was not able to find an association between BMI and diabetic retinopathy.

Overweight individuals are often tempted to try fad diets to lose weight. A sensible approach includes reducing caloric intake, exercising and following physician recommendations.

Study: Cheung N, Wong TY. Obesity and eye diseases. Surv Ophthalmol. 2007 Mar-Apr;52(2):180-95.