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Do you see many children playing outside when you drive home from work? Although kids once spent long periods of time outdoors in previous generations, today's youth are less likely to enjoy spontaneous games of hide and seek or kickball. In fact, parents of eight to 12-year-olds reported that their kids spend three times as much time using computers and watching TV as they do playing outside, according to The Nature of Americans National Report. Unfortunately, lack of outdoor time can make it hard to see clearly.
What Happens When Kids Spend Less Time Outdoors?
Lack of exposure to sunlight has been linked to an increased incidence of myopia in children. Myopia, commonly called nearsightedness, makes it difficult to see distant objects clearly without prescription eyeglasses or contact lenses. The refractive error occurs when the eye becomes too long from the front to the back. As a result, light rays don't focus directly on the retina, but in front of it.
Although wearing glasses has always been a part of childhood for some children, myopia rates have been increasing lately. Genetics certainly plays a role in myopia. Children of myopic parents are more likely to develop myopia themselves, but inheritance isn't necessarily the sole cause of nearsightedness. Close work, like reading or working on computers for hours at a time, may increase the chance that a child will develop the refractive error.
In most cases, myopia is merely an inconvenience, but it can cause other eye problems in adulthood if it's severe. Retinal tears, cataracts, retinal and vitreous detachments, glaucoma and macular degeneration may be more likely to occur if you need corrective lenses greater than 5 diopters.
Myopia Rates Are on the Rise
In the past, myopia rates remained fairly steady, but that's changed in the last several decades. Myopia cases increased by 66 percent from 1971-72 and 1999-2004, according to a National Eye Institute Research Study. Researchers believe that the increase is due to fewer hours spent outdoors and increased reliance on digital devices, like smartphones, laptops and tablets.
Spending Time Outdoors Offers a Simple Solution
Increasing outdoor exposure can have a very beneficial effect on kids' eyes. Chinese children who spent an additional 40 minutes outdoors every day experienced a lower level of myopia when compared to their classmates who remained indoors. Another study determined that children who have myopic parents but spend 14 hours outside weekly have the same risk of developing nearsightedness as peers whose parents aren't myopic.
Although it may not be possible to prevent every case of myopia, you can reduce your child's chances of becoming nearsighted by:
Increased outdoor time, reduced reliance on digital devices and regular visits to the optometrist can help you protect your child's vision. If it's time for a vision exam, or your son or daughter has been complaining of blurred vision, headaches or eyestrain, call us to schedule an appointment.
Yale Environment 360: U.S. Study Shows Widening Disconnect with Nature, and Potential Solutions, 4/27/17
CNN: Outdoor Playtime Might Help Kids Eyesight, 10/3/17
Investigative Ophthalmology & Visual Science: Early Childhood Refractive Error and Parental History of Myopia as Predictors of Myopia, 1/10
20/20: Controlling Myopia in Children, 8/14
JAMA Network: Additional Time Spent Outdoors by Children Results in Decreased Rate of Developing Nearsightedness, 9/15/15
National Eye Institute: Myopia Increases in the U.S. Population, 2/17/10