Myopia has increased since 1970-1971 according to a National Eye Institute study that compared rates of myopia in the United States with a survey conducted between 1994 and 2004. The rate of myopia rose from 25% within a group of participants to 41.6%.1 With these statistics, like autism, obesity, and diabetes, the incidence of nearsightedness is rising fast enough to be considered an epidemic. The danger is that severe myopia increases the risks of retinal detachment, glaucoma, and other eye disorders including blindness.2
The Myopia Health Concern
A study funded by NEI, found that the prevalence of myopia increased 66 percent for those aged 12 to 54 years in the United States between 1971-1972 and 1999-2004.1 Remarkably, NEI data showed that severe myopia was twice as widespread among younger adults as the elderly. For those aged 20 to 39, 7.4 percent had severe myopia compared with 3.1 percent for those 60 and older.
Eye doctors at the University of California, Berkeley, opened a clinic to help combat this rise in myopia in the United States, which they attribute partly to the overuse of handheld electronics. Changes in lifestyle over the past several decades include more time spent indoors and the early use of handheld computers.
“The problem with smartphones and iPads is that kids often hold them closer to their eyes than they would a book, and they can become totally absorbed for hours at a time. The working distance for handheld devices is much closer than it is for laptops and TV.” said Dr. Maria Liu, head of the new Myopia Control Clinic at UC Berkeley’s School of Optometry. Liu also explained that young children are vulnerable because their eyes are still developing with nearsighted children under 10 benefiting most from early intervention.
According to one NEI study, genetics may play a role, but a lack of outdoor activity seems to be a key environmental factor. The primary theory is that the brighter outdoor light stimulates a child’s retina to release dopamine making the eye grow properly for correct vision. Also considered is the role of vitamin D produced from exposure to sunlight and its effects on myopia.
Researchers have said that it may be that myopia is simply a consequence of modern, urban life, and noted that nearsightedness rates are relatively low in agricultural regions and nations. In short, educational pressure, hand held electronics and the disappearance of time outdoors may be driving kids to myopia.
What Can Be Done? Give Your Eyes a Break!
To reduce the risk of developing or worsening myopia, it is suggested to:
Take frequent breaks from close-up work activities. For every hour spent in front of a computer screen, work in a 10-minute break that includes looking off into the distance.
Get outside. Whether the benefits come from light exposure or increased time spent focusing at a distance, studies show that time spent outside is highly protective against myopia.
Infographic: What You Should Know If Your Child Is Nearsighted
“My Children Are Nearsighted Too”
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Vitale S, Sperduto RD, Ferris FL 3rd. Increased Prevalence of Myopia in the U.S. between 1971-1972 and 1999-2004. Arch Ophthalmol. 2009 Dec;127(12):1632-9. PubMed.
Xu L, Wang Y, Wang S, Wang Y & Jonas JB, ‘High Myopia and Glaucoma Susceptibility: The Beijing Eye Study’ Ophthalmology, Volume 114, Issue 2, February 2007; Praveen MR,Shah GD, Vasavada AR, Mehta PG, Gilbert C &Bhagat G ‘A study to explore the risk factors for the early onset of cataract in India’, Eye, 24, (12 June 2009).