Women in India who cook using fuels such as wood, crop residue and dried dung instead of cleaner fuels are more likely to have cataract, according to a new study published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives on Thursday. The study, the largest of its kind, was conducted by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, Aravind Eye Hospital and the All India Institute for Medical Sciences.
It found that Indian women who cook with biomass fuels were nearly 50 per cent more likely to have nuclear cataract (clouding of the lens in the nucleus leading to visual impairment) than those who use clean fuels such as gas. The associations were not observed for men, probably because cooking was almost exclusively done by women.
The study, funded by the Wellcome Trust, involved nearly 6,000 people aged 60 and above from randomly chosen villages and small towns in north and south India. Participants were interviewed on their use of cooking fuel and on a range of socio-economic and lifestyle factors. Then they underwent an eye examination. More than 40 per cent were found to have nuclear cataract.
After taking into account other risk factors, including indicators of poor nutrition, sun exposure, smoking and chewing tobacco, the researchers found that women who cooked with biomass fuels were 46 per cent more likely to have nuclear cataract compared to those who used gas. They found that cataracts were more likely with increasing length of time the women had used biomass fuels — from 50 per cent more likely for 20 years of use to 90 per cent after 30 years.