Two recent surveys have shown that Britons and Italians have scant knowledge of the protection that sunglasses provide against damage from ultraviolet (UV) light. Surprisingly, the surveys also indicate that more inhabitants in rainy Britain wear sunglasses than those of sunny Italy, and that Italians were more ill-informed than the British.

A survey commissioned by the charity Sightsavers and People's Postcode Lottery shows that 90 percent of British people use sunglasses but only 40 percent of them do it to protect their eyes from UV rays. Actually, 30 percent of them were found to be unaware of the effects that UV damage can have on their eyes, and 69 percent of respondents did not know that UV damage could cause cataracts.

Worldwide, 65 million people suffer from cataracts, with the World Health Organization estimating that 20 percent of the cases are caused by overexposure to UV rays.

The survey adds that 17 percent of the respondents thought that sunglasses were a waste of money, while a further 15 percent did not see the point of using them at all. “Overall, Brits are choosing comfort over eye health,” said Sightsavers, as 29 percent of the interviewers stated that they did not find wearing sunglasses comfortable.

The survey also showed that 26 percent of British men and 14 percent of women spent more than £100 on a pair of sunglasses. The biggest spenders were young Britons aged between 25 and 34 years old, who spent on average £145 on a pair of sunglasses.

According to the survey, 54 percent of British men own two or three pairs, compared to 50 percent of women who own as many. Italians are traditionally thought to be big sunglass wearers, but some new figures show a different story. A survey carried out by the Piepoli Institute for Commissione Difesa Vista, an Italian non-profit organization promoting vision and eye health, revealed that only 60 percent of Italians use sunglasses, and only 52 percent consider them to be essential to protect their eyes from UV rays.

The study draws a correlation between the use of sunglasses and the level of education among the Italian people.

The Italian survey indicated that 15 percent of those who own sunglasses always use them, 30 percent never or almost never, and 18 percent rarely.

Children and the elderly are most at risk in Italy: only 11 percent of very young children and 10 percent of people over the age of 55 wear sunglasses. The ratio decreases further after the age of 64. Furthermore, less than 20 percent of young people who have sight defects use sunglasses. The ratio increases after the age of 45 but then declines after the age of 55.