Research shows eyesight epidemic for children caused by lack of time outside
Scientists have concluded that children may reduce the risk of myopia (commonly referred to as being short sighted) by spending more time engaged in outdoor play, a study recently published in the British Journal of Ophthalmology has found.
These findings echo Australian early childhood education and care (ECEC) advocates, who have called for children’s outdoor play needs to be better served by the sector, and by communities as a whole.
The study discovered that genetics played a factor in whether or not a child would become myopic, however screen-based activities – such as time spent on an ipad or playing computer games – also increased the chance of a child becoming short sighted. This risk was reduced when children spent more time outdoors.
Researchers also found that children who entered the formal schooling system at a younger age were more likely to develop short sightedness than their peers, noting that the change in work environment from the less structured preschool years to the formal schooling system, which required more near work – such as focusing on printed words – resulted in changes to the shape of the eyeball, which is linked to myopia.
Currently, approximately a quarter of young people globally are short sighted. Research has shown a dramatic increase in myopia in Asian countries, with predictions that up to 90 per cent of people could experience myopia by the year 2050.
Associated research, published in Progress in Retinal and Eye Research shows that there is a new, and highly prevalent form of high myopia (severe short sightedness) which is acquired, rather than genetic. The researchers describe this increase as an epidemic.
The scientists involved in the epidemic research say that intense education and limited time outdoors play major roles in the epidemic, calling on education systems to make major change to curb the trend.
“We conclude that changes in education and the time that children spend outdoors have played a major causal role in the emergence of the myopia epidemics, and that these factors can be modified to achieve prevention.” the scientists said.
A variety of Australian resources exist to support ECEC providers and educators to guide outdoor play, including:
- Early Childhood Australia
- The OPAL program
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