By Roy Benaroch, MD
Hours of indoor study might help make great students, but might not be good for their eyes. That’s the conclusion reached by research published this month in The Lancet.
Scientists looked at students in different areas of the world, comparing rates of myopia (or “nearsightedness.”) The worst eyesight was found in children completing secondary school in large East Asian cities—80-90% of these kids had were significantly nearsighted. This is a much higher rate than that of children in Great Britain (30-40%) or Africa (2-3%) and is also much higher than the rates of nearsightedness a generation ago. Why has vision become so poor so quickly, especially in these East Asian communities?
The authors’ data correlates poor vision most closely with extended time spent studying and reading indoors. Excessive reading itself doesn’t seem to be the primary problem—but rather, excessive time indoors is probably to blame. Sunlight itself seems to be necessary for normal eyeball growth and development. Children who spend almost all of their time indoors seem to have altered growth of their eyes, leading to an increased need for glasses.
So: add vision health to the growing list of reasons to send your kids outside to play. They’ll also get the benefits of increased physical activity, which prevents obesity, helps with concentration, and helps children get a good night’s sleep. Outside play is also a great way to practice social and physical skills and to get the vitamin D from sunshine that’s essential for bone and immune system health. It’s time to turn off the TV and push your kids outside!