Cataract and latitude

Doc Ophthalmol. 1994;88(3-4):307-25. doi: 10.1007/BF01203684.


For many years, it has been suggested that exposure to sunlight, particularly its ultraviolet component, may be associated with an increased risk of senile cataract. This paper addresses 1) the physical and geographic variables that affect the entry of ultraviolet light in the eye; 2) the epidemiologic evidence that associates cataract with ultraviolet light exposure; and 3) the effectiveness of personal barrier protection (i.e. sunglasses and hats) in reducing ocular exposure to ultraviolet light. The epidemiologic evidence is drawn from studies in Australia, China, Tibet, and the United States. The U.S. evidence consists of data from the Maryland Watermen study and analyses of cataract surgery under the Medicare program which provides health insurance for nearly all Americans age 65 and over (30 million) and pays for 85% of the 1.3 million cataract extractions performed annually in the U.S. Analysis of the Medicard data shown that, after controlling for age, sex, and race, and income of the population and also controlling for supply of ophthalmologists, optometrists, price of surgery and local practice costs, the strongest predictor of cataract surgery likelihood in a Medicare beneficiary is the person's latitude of residence. Latitude correlates directly with the UV-B content of sunlight, because the incident angle of the sun determines the atmospheric penetration of ultraviolet radiation. Data suggest that the probability of cataract surgery in the U.S. increases by 3% for each 1 degree decrease (i.e. more Southerly) in latitude.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Australia / epidemiology
  • Cataract / epidemiology
  • Cataract / etiology*
  • Cataract Extraction / statistics & numerical data
  • China / epidemiology
  • Environmental Exposure
  • Female
  • Geography*
  • Humans
  • Lens, Crystalline / radiation effects*
  • Male
  • Medicare
  • Radiation Injuries / epidemiology
  • Radiation Injuries / etiology*
  • Risk Factors
  • Tibet / epidemiology
  • Ultraviolet Rays / adverse effects*
  • United States / epidemiology