She's a mom of two, a four-time undefeated world boxing champion and the daughter of Muhammad Ali, and now Laila Ali is speaking out about children's eye health in a big way. The 40-year-old wellness expert has partnered with Think About Your Eyes, a national public awareness campaign focused on spreading the importance of scheduling annual eye exams with an optometrist.
Ali spoke exclusively with LIVESTRONG.COM and shared the greatest lesson her father ever taught her about parenting as well when exactly parents should schedule their child's first eye exam.
The Greatest Lesson Muhammad Ali Taught His Daughter
Being the daughter of a world-renowned boxer, Ali learned at a young age the importance of leading by example — a major reason why she's so passionate about helping others and diligent about taking care of her own health, especially in front of her kids.
"I'm all about leading by example because I know firsthand by watching my father: He was the greatest of all time, a global icon," she tells LIVESTRONG.COM. "Obviously, I look at him differently than the rest of the world does, but he really was that same person at home as he was when we went out into the world, and it was the best lesson. He was a kind person, he cared about people, he was compassionate, and that's what I learned most from my father, just how to treat people and how to treat yourself."
When it comes to being a mom, Ali is mindful of setting a good example, especially in terms of personal care. "I want my kids, when they're with me, to see how I treat people, to hear how I talk to people, and even see me doing things as simple as getting an eye exam."
Ali’s Personal Struggles With Eye Health
When it comes to being a parent, yearly doctor visits and trips to the dentist are often scheduled months in advance, with one crucial appointment often forgotten — the optometrist! But Ali, who admits she didn't take her daughter to get her eyes checked until she was 5 years old, is trying to spread the word.
"I started working with Think About Your Eyes because I know firsthand how important it is to get comprehensive eye exams since the same thing happened to me as it did with my daughter: I waited until she was squinting, and then I was like, 'Oh, she needs glasses!'" Ali says. "I know that's what happened with my mom with me too. I'm trying to encourage other parents to get ahead of that and go for a yearly comprehensive eye exam to make sure they are taking care of their kid's eye health and their own eyes as well."
And if there's anyone who knows a thing or two about the importance of eye exams, it's Ali. The athlete, who started wearing glasses at 11 years old, has been dealing with the constant changing of her vision for years. "I actually had correction done to my eyes because when I started boxing I couldn't wear my contacts in the ring," she tells LIVESTRONG.COM. "But 15 years later, I had to go get my eyes checked again because they had changed and I started having vision problems at night. So now I'm back in contacts! It's a good reminder that our eyes are constantly changing, even as adults."
The Surprising Age You Can Take Your Kids for an Eye Exam
While many parents often wait for their kids to receive eye exams in school or at their pediatrician's office, Ali reveals that children should be seeing an optometrist at just a few months old.
"We can actually take our children as young as six months," she says. "A lot of parents rely on eye exams once their children go to school, so they don't really do anything unless there's a problem. A pediatrician can look at your kid's eyes and sometimes they do tests, but that's not a comprehensive eye exam and that's not their specialty. It's the same with at school: 75 percent of things they don't even catch, so you cannot depend on that."
So what does a visit to the optometrist's office cover, exactly? Let's just say it's a lot! "We don't realize that by getting your eyes checked you can actually find out if you have diabetes or heart disease or things that could come up, so it's really connected to our overall wellness," Ali explains. "I'm always trying to encourage people to be the best they can possibly be, and something we don't think a lot about is our eyes. I talk to people who say they wear glasses but haven't gotten their eyes checked in five years, and it's not just about being able to see, it's about the actual health of your eyes as well."
It’s Not Too Late!
Worried that you missed the mark when it comes to getting you or your child in for a visit with an optometrist? Think again! "It's never too late to start getting your children's eyes checked or to even get your own eyes checked. And that's with anything!" Ali says. "As soon as you get the information and you realize, then you gotta get on top of it. Just don't wait. Do it now! As parents, it's our job to take care of our kids. They're not going to be able to take care of themselves."