A Chinese Study Shows a Significant Increase in Myopia in Children After the First Lockdown

A recent study estimates that half of the world’s population will be myopic by 2050 a logical consequence, says ophthalmologist Franck Earith.  A Chinese study published Jan. 14 in the medical journal JAMA Ophthalmology showed that the number of six-year-old children suffering from myopia tripled after the first lockdown between February and May 2020. The researchers cite the lack of access to the outdoors, whether it’s a garden or a balcony which deprives children of daylight, as the main reason for this increase.

Eye Exam

Eye Exam

One in five six-year-olds is nearsighted.

Daylight is essential for proper retinal function because it allows for greater production of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that acts directly on the retina. Researchers conducted eye tests on more than 120,000 children ages 6 to 13 attending 10 elementary schools in Feicheng, China, when the schools reopened in June 2020. They compared the results with those from previous years and found a 10-15% increase in myopia among young children.

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“In 2019, only 5.7% of six-year-olds in the study were myopic, but by 2020, one in five six-year-olds was myopic,” they noted. Beyond age nine, the researchers observed no significant difference from previous years.

The other factors that explain this increase in myopia in children are excessive screen use, which increased sharply during the confinement period, and children’s poor posture when reading or looking at screens. “The Chinese have done several studies on myopia and have shown that the risk increases when children work at night in dim light,” Franck Earith continued. With confinement, this phenomenon has worsened. Since they can’t go outside, children tend to increase their screen time, especially on tablets.

By 2050, half of the world’s population will be nearsighted

To combat nearsightedness, the ophthalmologist advocates for more education by parents and teachers to help children adopt a better posture. The dangers to the child lie not only in nearsightedness but also in ending up with a hunched back. “The difficulty is not in telling children to stand up straight, but in finding ways to motivate them to keep it up,” he acknowledges. When looking at a screen, they should be no more than 20 centimeters away. They should have their arms extended so that the screen forms a right angle with their arm and forearm. With continuous reinforcement, the correct posture should become automatic.

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Predictions about the development of myopia are not reassuring. A study published Feb. 11, 2016, in the journal Ophthalmology, which examined population trends in myopia since the 2000s, predicts that half of the world’s population will be nearsighted by 2050. “This trend is almost impossible to avoid,” Franck Earith acknowledges. People are spending all their time on computers. In the study, scientists predict that a lack of daylight could make myopia the leading cause of blindness in the world. Therefore to avoid harming your eyes limit your screen time and get enough daylight exposure.

References

Progression of Myopia in School-Aged Children After COVID-19 Home Confinement

Global Prevalence of Myopia and High Myopia and Temporal Trends from 2000 through 2050

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