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Screening for colour vision defects is pointless

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Paediatricians are advocating that childhood screening for congenital colour vision defects (CVD) in the UK be abandoned, based on the results of a retrospective cohort study.

They found little evidence to support screening—used mainly to advise against certain occupations—and say that specialist diagnostic tests, as nationally recommended, are more useful to assess the true risk in specific jobs within occupations.

Their analysis of current and past occupations among the 1958 British birth cohort at age 33 showed that in only a few of the occupations traditionally deemed unsuitable on the basis of safety or product quality were men with CVD significantly underrepresented. These occupations were aircraft and ships’ officers, electrical and electronic engineering, and fibre and textile processing. Current occupation in all occupational groups varied significantly, not by colour vision but by sex and social class at birth; nor did colour vision significantly affect choice of career expected from educational attainment and social class. Employment state at 33 was unrelated to CVD. The cohort of 12 534 subjects, screened for colour vision at age 11, comprised 51% men and 49% women; 6.7% and 1.1%, respectively, had CVD.

The study analysed self reported occupation with a taxonomy based on tasks performed in 3500 occupations.

The UK’s Health and Safety Executive recognises that jobs within occupations requiring normal colour vision can have different needs. Legally the need for normal colour vision in certain occupations varies internationally, and the value of universal childhood screening, widespread in industrialised countries, is in question.