Cataract and latitude

Jonathan C. Javitt, Hugh R. Taylor

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


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 adresses 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 benificiary 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.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)307-325
Number of pages19
JournalDocumenta Ophthalmologica: The Journal of Clinical Electrophysiology and Vision - The Official Journal of the International Society for Clinical Electrophysiology and Vision
Issue number3-4
StatePublished - Mar 1994
Externally publishedYes


  • Cataract
  • Epidemiological analysis
  • Latitude
  • Risk factors
  • Sunlight
  • Ultraviolet

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ophthalmology
  • Sensory Systems
  • Physiology (medical)

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