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Making a difference: if the profession works together it can make the right connections and improve the nation's eye health, believes David Cartwright, chair of the Eyecare Trust.

Time after time research tells us how much people value their vision--one recent study highlighted how we fear losing our sight even more than getting cancer, AIDS/HIV, heart disease or diabetes. So why is that so few people take positive steps to look after their eyes and prevent avoidable sight loss?

There is a real disconnection between what we say--"my eyesight is important to me"--and, what we do--20 million Britons fail to have regular sight tests, 10 million UK adults smoke and 70% of us eat fewer than the recommended five portions of fruit and vegetables a day.

When people are asked why they don't look after their eye health, it's clear that, for many at least, they simply don't know how to. Just one-in-10 smokers is aware that smoking can affect their eye health--despite smokers being three to four times more likely to suffer from age-related macular degeneration than non-smokers. In addition, a recent study commissioned by the Eyecare Trust revealed that 60% of us are unaware that our diet can also affect our eye health.

Effective initiatives

This all goes to highlight the importance of initiatives such as National Eye Health Week (NEHW), which, since 2010, has strived to educate the public about the simple things that they can do to keep their eyes healthy.

The reach and effectiveness of NEHW has grown significantly year-on-year. After last year's campaign, 1.5 million UK adults said they were encouraged to book a sight test for themselves or a family member as a result of seeing, hearing or reading NEHW-branded coverage.

In 2016 we plan to build on this success, leveraging opportunities afforded to us by our new charity status to connect with people on an emotional level. We will also aim to reinforce key messages about the importance of regular sight tests for all and how making small lifestyle changes--not smoking, eating a healthy diet and protecting your eyes from UV damage--can make a big difference to your eye health, both today and in the future.

These messages will be set within the broader context of Public Health England's Health and Wellbeing Framework (see image above), giving greater scope for our messaging to penetrate the most hard-to-reach groups.

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In addition to a series of national initiatives, NEHW will again provide eye care practitioners with free resources to help them have meaningful and engaging conversations with their communities and inspire local residents to take better care of their eyes.

Sign up and take part

If you haven't already signed up yet, you can register as a NEHW supporter by emailing your contact details to info@visionmatters.org.uk

Together we can create lasting and powerful connections with people, harnessing the value they place on their vision to change public behaviour and make a real difference to the state of the nation's eye health.

National Eye Health Week 2016 takes place 19-25 September.

David Cartwright is an optometrist and chair of the Eyecare Trust. He has been chair of NEHW for the last three years and is also a non-executive director at Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust.

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Title Annotation:PERSPECTIVES
Author:Cartwright, David
Publication:Optometry Today
Date:May 1, 2016
Words:521
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