Press release

Scotland’s leading sight loss charity is calling for action to raise awareness of risk factors for sight loss, including poor diet and lack of exercise. 

Sight Scotland has highlighted new research which shows that many Scots are unaware of how they can reduce their risk of developing visual impairment. The charity is calling on the Scottish Government and Public Health Scotland to include reducing the risk of sight loss in public health awareness campaigns. 

Diabetic retinopathy is a complication of diabetes, caused by high blood sugar levels damaging the back of the eye retina. There are currently around 110,000 people living with the condition in Scotland, and it is an increasing cause of sight loss. Some of the risk factors for diabetic retinopathy are age, ethnicity and family history of the disease, but a number are preventable, such as poor diet or lack of activity. However, research from YouGov commissioned by Sight Scotland revealed that only around a third of people in Scotland recognised poor diet, drinking and smoking as risks factors for sight loss, and only one in ten (11%) that lack of exercise increased risk. 

Sight Scotland has now written to Public Health Minister Joe Fitzpatrick and Public Health Scotland to urge that risk factors for sight loss are included in future public health awareness campaigns. 

Mark O’Donnell, Chief Executive of Sight Scotland and Sight Scotland Veterans said: “Visual impairment is a life-changing condition, and it is vital we all do what we can to protect our sight. Every hour someone in Scotland starts to lose their sight, and by 2030 there will be over 200,000 blind and partially sighted people in Scotland. 

“It is deeply concerning that so many people are not aware of some of the risk factors for sight loss conditions such as diabetic retinopathy and glaucoma. Some people will always be at an increased risk because of factors such as genetics, but for others altering their diet or levels of exercise can reduce their risk of developing these conditions. It is vital public health awareness campaigns raise awareness of what we can do to protect our sight, and encourage people who live with conditions such as diabetes to have their eyes tested regularly.” 

Tony Henderson of Kirriemiur receives support from Sight Scotland Veterans and has had diabetic retinopathy for ten years. Diabetes has affected a number of Tony’s family members and he has had diabetes for nearly forty years. Tony is supporting the work of Sight Scotland and Diabetes Scotland to raise awareness of diabetic retinopathy. Giving his backing to the campaign, he said: 

“Since I developed diabetic retinopathy I have lost all sight in my right eye and now only have some peripheral vision in my left eye. This has meant a lot of changes in my life. Before my sight loss I used to drive and paint, and now when I go to the shops I have to be accompanied by wife. The assistance I have received from Sight Scotland Veterans has been excellent. I’ve been supported by their local Outreach Team and they have provided me with equipment and magnifiers. This has meant I have been able to continue my art and learn new digital skills. 

“However, from my own experience I know it is really important for people with diabetes to get their eyes checked regularly, so if they do develop diabetic retinopathy they can get early treatment. The prevalence of diabetes in my family means I was always going to be at risk, but if other people can reduce their risk of sight loss and diabetes by thinking about their diet and exercise it is important they are aware of this. “ 


Notes to Editors:

1. From a YouGov online survey of 1008 adults undertaken between 20th - 24th August 2020. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all Scottish adults (aged 18+). The question asked was: Which, if any, of the following are you are aware of as being a risk factor for sight loss? (Please select all that apply) 

Premature birth 13% 

Age 67% 

Diet 35% 

Lack of exercise 11% 

Smoking 37% 

Drinking 32% 

Genetics/family history 73% 

Injuries /accidents 65% 

None of these 2% 

Don't know 11% 


2. Sight Scotland, formerly known as Royal Blind, is Scotland’s largest visual impairment charity. We provide care and support that empowers people affected by sight loss in Scotland, including learning at the Royal Blind School and education outreach services; residential care for children and young adults with visual impairment and complex needs; and specialist residential care for older people living with sight loss. The Scottish Braille Press provides  supported employment for disabled people and is a leading provider of accessible media. Sight Scotland Veterans, formerly known as Scottish War Blinded, was initially created by Royal Blind, and provides free support to ex-servicemen and women affected by sight loss in Scotland, regardless of the cause, to help them regain confidence, restore their independence and make new connections. The two charities are separate but cooperate very closely as part of a group structure.