If you are in your late 30’s or early 40’s, only about 1 out of 10 of your grandparents’ elementary school classmates would have worn glasses. Now almost half of the kids in your own child’s classroom likely wears glasses.
Take a look around the next time you are at an elementary school function, you will be surprised how many kids are wearing glasses.
So what in the world is going on here?
In one word : Myopia.
Myopia is just a fancy word for nearsightedness. Nearsightedness means that your child sees better up close than far away, thus they need glasses or contact lenses to see things, like the board, in school.
A lot of research has been done over the last 10-15 years about myopia because it is becoming an epidemic. Most of the studies were done in Asia because it is much more prevalent there. In fact, between 50-66% of the population in several Asian countries suffer from myopia. In the U.S. we currently sit somewhere between 34-58%, which is much higher than it was even 20 years ago. (If you are interested in knowing where I got these numbers you can read this study.)
Some people try to blame this solely on genetics. While genetics can be a factor, we can’t completely blame our ancestors for this. There weren’t really any large scale studies done on myopia 100 years ago, but some estimates put the prevalence of myopia in the early 20th century at less than 10%.
Why is this?
100 years ago kids spent a lot less time indoors. They didn’t have the luxury of air conditioning, TVs, tablets, phones, and video games. Most of the food they ate was fresh and not packed with sugar and preservatives.
Learning was less demanding and less competitive, and it certainly wasn’t done using a tablet or computer screen. Most 10 year olds were happy to get a new bike or football for Christmas instead of the latest video game.
Unfortunately the last two years hasn’t done us any favors either, as appears the numbers are rising more since many children shifted to virtual learning.
All of the things that I mentioned above have been directly linked to myopia. Here are a few specific things that we know cause myopia to develop more rapidly in young children:
- Not getting enough exposure to the sun. UV light is very beneficial to our eyes and prevents myopia from developing.
- Eating a diet high in sugar causes myopia to develop more rapidly.
- Spending too much time in front of a device or screen at close distances causes eye strain. This causes the eye to develop myopia in response to the strain.
So what can we do?
It’s actually simple: let your kids spend more time outdoors on the playground.
Encourage them to slide the slides, try the monkey bars, swing as high as they can go. Go to the park and ride bikes. Anything they love to do that allows them to spend time outside, do it! If it’s too hot or cold outside, have them sit by a window and allow them to soak in some of the brightness from the sun.
Anything your child can do outside that encourages them to not focus their eyes on objects that are too close to them is going to have a positive impact on their eyesight! Limit screen time, encourage healthy eating habits, and above all — get playing!
So get them outside and play on all of the wonderful playgrounds we have access to in our area. It’s not just good for their physical health, it’s good for their eye health, too.
Do you think your child needs glasses and suffers from myopia? Please contact Collierville Vision Center and make an appointment for an evaluation.
If your child is already suffering from nearsightedness and you are curious at ways to slow down the progression, feel free to reach out and Dr. Walley will be happy to explain more.
About the Author:
Dr. Walley is a native of Madison, MS. He received his B.S. in Microbiology in 2004 from Mississippi State University. In 2008 he received his doctorate of Optometry from the Southern College of Optometry in Memphis. He lives in Collierville and is married with two children and two dogs. He enjoys spending his free time with his family, playing golf, exercising, and spending time outdoors. His also enjoys Mississippi State sports and New Orleans Saints football. Dr. Walley also loves to cook and share recipes with his patients.