Laila Ali is many things: one of the greatest female boxers of all time, a fitness and wellness expert, a founder of her own lifestyle brand, and a mother of two. She is also the daughter of Muhammad Ali, one of the most significant sports figures of the 20th century.
Ali is now adding another credit to her name as she teams up with the Think About Your Eyes National public awareness campaign, in partnership with the American Optometric Association, to help raise awareness for undetected vision problems. Ali herself knows the importance of an annual comprehensive eye exam. When her daughter, Sydney, turned 5 years old, she started squinting so much in class that her teacher had to move her to the front of the room. Ali shares with Yahoo Lifestyle, “I’ve learned that you’re actually supposed to take your children between the ages of 6 months and a year [to get checked]. I think that surprises most parents, and that’s why I’ve partnered with Think About Your Eyes to encourage families to get annual comprehensive eye exams. Not only for yourself but also for your children. Summer is a great time to do it.”
Ali herself started wearing glasses when she was young. “My mom didn’t realize that I needed glasses until I was 11 years old,” she says. “She was relying on school exams or thinking that I was going to be able to tell her I had blurry vision. But to me that was normal, so I wasn’t able to communicate that to her.”
Ali started having headaches and trouble focusing in school because of her vision problems, and she says it definitely affected her self-esteem. “Luckily at 11 years old I went and got glasses and I’ve been wearing them ever since, up until I became a boxer, when I couldn’t wear my glasses in the ring. Then I had to get a vision correction. But the reason why it’s so important to go get an annual eye exam is because your eyes can continue to change.”
Another reason to get an eye exam at an optometrist’s or ophthalmologist’s office is because school exams are very basic, only checking for certain problems. An optometrist or ophthalmologist (an MD specializing in the eye) will provide a comprehensive exam, and screenings often miss vision issues like macular degeneration, glaucoma, and diabetic eye diseases.
Early identification of a child’s vision problem is important because if left untreated, some childhood vision problems can lead to permanent vision loss. Additionally, more children than ever before are experiencing eye fatigue due to their increased exposure to digital screens. The National Eye Institute reports that nearsightedness has increased 66 percent since the 1970s with the increased usage of video games.
Ali has always advocated healthy lifestyle choices and hard work. “We have to be advocates for ourselves,” she says, adding, “Parents have to be champions for their children; we have to make sure we have all the bases covered. When they don’t feel well or they’re starting to squint, don’t feel bad that you haven’t already taken them to get their eyes checked. But if you’re reading this today and you haven’t done it, this can be that summer that you get on top of that.”
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