Eyesight Worsening as Billions Spend More Time Playing Games and Watching TV.
Due to coronavirus lockdowns, less time outdoors and more time on screens is leading to significantly more people suffering from myopia, especially children. With the lockdown, homeschooling, and working from home, we are all staring at screens, tablets, and mobile phones even more than we already did before the COVID-19 pandemic. Most people spend endless amounts of time at home now and rarely go outside. But that means our eyes are constantly focused on objects in close range inside, and we’re lacking the benefits of looking into the distance.
A lack of exercise is particularly noticeable in children – including exercise for their eyes. Recent studies from the Netherlands and China show that as a result of COVID-19 restrictions, myopia has increased dramatically, especially in children. The phenomenon has been called “quarantine myopia”.
Data from more than 120,000 Chinese school children showed that kids between the ages of six and eight were up to three times more likely to have myopia in 2020 than children of their age in previous years. In this age group, visual acuity shifted by a substantial 0.3 diopters towards myopia.
This combination – more screen time and less outdoor time – may actually harm children’s vision and put them at higher risk of developing myopia, or nearsightedness. That can lead to serious eye problems in the future, including some potentially blinding diseases. A review of 25 years of research found that working up close – like reading or using a tablet – increased the odds of myopia.
For example, a nationwide study in Taiwan found that after-school study programs with lots of closeup work were associated with an increased likelihood of nearsightedness among children ages 7 to 12. A study of Chinese schoolchildren found that increased time spent working with the eyes focused on something less than 20 centimetres away was associated with myopia.
Researchers in Ireland found that greater than three hours of screen time per day increased the odds of myopia in schoolchildren, and investigators in Denmark found that the risk of myopia approximately doubled in Danish teenagers who used screen devices for more than six hours per day.
Getting outdoors matters
Some studies now suggest that spending time outdoors may be able to slow the onset and progression of nearsightedness.
In Taiwan, first-grade students at schools with programs designed to increase their outdoors time to 11 hours or more each week had less progression of myopia over one year compared to their peers. Similarly, in China, researchers found that adding 40 minutes of outdoor activity a day at school reduced the development of nearsightedness in six-year-old children over the next three years.
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