There are many factors that contribute to children’s poor eyesight and not spending enough time outdoors is one of them. The study published by Ulster University found that the rate of short-sightedness among young people has doubled over the past 50 years. Twenty-three per cent of British 12 and 13-year-olds suffer from myopia, a medical term for short-sightedness, as compared to ten per cent in the 60s’. In East Asian countries, it is worse - with up to 90 per cent of schoolchildren short-sighted.
The problem occurs when the eye grows beyond its normal length, so instead of looking like a ping-pong ball, it is egg-shaped. This affects how light enters the eye - rather than light rays reaching the retina at the back of the eye, they focus in front of it, resulting in distant objects appearing blurred.
The lack of exposure to daylight causes our body to produce lower amount of dopamine ensures healthy eye growth. According to David Allamby, an ophthalmologist and medical director of Focus eye clinic, London, dopamine is a chemical messenger in the brain that is released in the retina by daylight.
'Not having enough daylight may cause the eye to grow in an uncontrolled manner,' he says. 'It not only means children are having to wear glasses or contact lenses, with all the stigma that can bring, but being short-sighted increases the risk of a range of serious eye conditions,’ says David.
These include a detached retina. With short-sightedness, the retina can become so stretched that it detaches, and if this is not treated, it can cause blindness. A detached retina is ten times more likely if you are short-sighted. Glaucoma, a build-up of pressure in the eye which damages the optic nerve, and cataracts - cloudy patches that develop in the lens of your eye that can cause blurred or misty vision - are also more common in people with short-sight.
Research shows that going outdoors even for short periods of time can make a difference. A Chinese study found going outside for an extra 40 minutes a day reduced short-sightedness in children. In the three-year trial following 900 children aged six and seven, one group was given an extra 40-minute outdoor class to end the school day. Of those, 30 per cent were short-sighted by the age of nine or ten compared with 40 per cent of those who stayed indoors.
Besides the lack of exposure to sunlight, the prolonged use of electronic devices such as iPads and smart phones can cause eye strain and dry, burning and itching eyes. A 2014 survey by the American Optometric Association found that 80 per cent of children aged between ten and 17 reported burning, itchy or tired eyes after using electronic devices for long periods. They tend to blink less when they are attached to the screens. Blinking lubricates eyes and, while people normally blink every three to four seconds, when staring at a screen it is only every ten to 12 seconds, so eyes become dry and sore. Laboratory studies indicate these symptoms are significantly greater when viewing digital screens compared with books.
Diet also plays an important role in preventing children’s eyes from deteriorating. Children need to consume a diet that is rich in vitamins and minerals. Omega 3, a nutrient found in oily fish and flaxseeds, is key to healthy eyes. However, not many children are consuming enough of it.
It is vital for parents to start paying attention to children’s eyesight. Myopia is a problem that can be detected early. All children should have a comprehensive eye examination by the age of three, with parents paying special attention to any changes in their eyesight.
Leong Kim Weng is a writer who writes about parenthood's articles. He uses this platform to reach out to the young parents. Writing for www.parentsdojo.com has given him the opportunity to learn and share interesting perspectives with others.