Parents of young children should consider investing in whole life insurance, college savings plans, estate planning services – and sunglasses.

WellPoint Inc., Indianapolis (NYSE:WLP), and Transitions Optical Inc., Pinellas Park, Fla., talk about the importance of protecting children’s eyes against the sun in a new report based in part on a survey of about 2,500 U.S. residents ages 18 and older.

Long-term exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet rays can increase the risk that children will Childdevelop conditions such as cataracts and macular degeneration later in life, according to Pat Huot of Transitions Optical, a company that that supplies materials to makers of sunglasses.

The United States already spends billions of dollars per year to treat those conditions, and the conditions also can lead to dramatic increases in long term care costs, by causing blindness.

WellPoint and Transitions Optical found that parents are much less aware of the danger that sunlight poses to the eyes than they are to other possible effects of exposure to the sun.

Asked about possible harmful effects of exposure to the sun, 92% mentioned sunburn, 91% talked about skin cancer, and 82% cited heat stroke or heat exhaustion. Only 36% of all participants and 48% of the participants with children said they were aware that doctors believe UV rays are more dangerous to children’s eyes than to adults’ eyes.

- Allison Bell