BACKGROUND: There is substantial evidence of a disparity in access to eye care services among adults in the U.S.; however, little is known about health disparities for children's eye care. PURPOSE: The goal of the study was to assess the prevalence of and risk factors for 5th-grade students' unmet eye care needs. METHODS: Data were collected from 5147 5th-grade students (aged 10-11 years) and their parents and primary caregivers (hereafter "parents") participating in the Healthy Passages study between fall 2004 and summer 2006 (analyzed in 2011). Logistic regression estimated the probability of inability to afford needed eyeglasses and absence of vision insurance coverage. RESULTS: 1794 5th-grade students wore eyeglasses or were told that they need eyeglasses; 13.7% of their parents were unable to afford needed eyeglasses (new prescription or replacement) for their children; 27.4% of their parents reported no vision insurance coverage for eye examinations and eyeglasses. After controlling for confounders, parents without general children's health insurance were more likely to report being unable to afford eyeglasses than those with health insurance (Medicaid, SCHIP, private/other insurance; adjusted percentages: 22.5% vs 10.9%, 9.6%, 12.5%; all p<0.05). Parents with lower income were more likely to report being unable to afford children's eyeglasses even after controlling for all other factors (17.6% with income <$15,000 vs 2.7% with income ≥$70,000; p<0.001). CONCLUSIONS: SES and health insurance status are strongly associated with 5th-grade students' unmet eye care needs. Policies targeting socioeconomically disadvantaged groups and those without insurance may be needed to reduce disparities in access to appropriate eye care.

This report is part of the RAND external publication series. Many RAND studies are published in peer-reviewed scholarly journals, as chapters in commercial books, or as documents published by other organizations.

RAND is a nonprofit institution that helps improve policy and decisionmaking through research and analysis. RAND's publications do not necessarily reflect the opinions of its research clients and sponsors.