The impact of screen-time on our children’s vision is a topic of ongoing debate in the medical community.
One thing that’s crystal clear is that myopia - what you and I would call “short-sightedness” - is on the rise throughout the developed world.
In some cities in China, for example, more than nine out of ten university students need corrective lenses for myopia.
“This is one of the largest epidemics humanity has ever seen, far greater than the obesity epidemic,” observes University of Western Australia ophthalmology professor David Mackey.
Are screens to blame?
The question is, are screens to blame?
Yes and no, says Mackey.
Writing this week in The Conversation, he points to the fact that the short-sightedness has been increasing worldwide well before the age of the smartphone, tablet and laptop.
A generation ago, television was blamed for destroying kids’ eyesight. And a few of us may be old enough to remember parents scolding “Get your nose out of that book and give your eyes a rest!”
There is a grain of truth in all of these fears.
Three underlying factors
In fact, explains Mackey, the three most direct environmental causes of today’s myopia epidemic are reduced time spent in daylight, increased time spent on “near work” and (no doubt related to the first two) more years devoted to education. So in that sense, you could say that it is study, not screens, that’s the culprit here.
At the same time, it’s plain to see (sorry!) that screen use is interrelated with all of these factors, and is helping to drive the trend.
Genetics also plays a role in myopia, and children whose parents are short-sighted and more likely to need glasses, no matter how much or little they use screens or study in artificial light.
“Go play outside!”
Limiting screen-time is a first step to protecting kids’ eyesight. But getting them outside, away from indoor light and into natural daylight, should be the goal, Mackey urges.
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