Fight against myopia in children: can time spent outdoors help?

Research suggests that time spent outdoors reduces the risk of myopia, a vision problem on the rise worldwide.

Two children dressed in coats playing outdoors on a balancing act in a city playground with their mother watching

Turns out when your mom told you to stop sitting near the TV or that you might need glasses, she was on to something.

Myopia, or nearsightedness, is a growing problem in the world. While a myopic child can see near objects clearly, more distant objects appear blurry. Part of this growing problem, experts say, is that children are spending too much time indoors looking at things close to them rather than going outside and looking at things that are far away.

What is myopia ?

Myopia is very common, affecting approximately 5% of preschoolers, 9% of school-aged children, and 30% of teens. But what worries experts is that in recent decades its global prevalence has doubled – and during the pandemic ophthalmologists have noticed an increase in myopia.

Myopia occurs when the eyeball is too large from front to back. Genes play a big role, but growing research shows there are developmental factors. The stereotype of the nerd wearing glasses is actually true; research shows that the more years spent in school, the higher the risk of myopia. Studies also show, even more reliably, that spend time outdoors may reduce the risk of myopia in children.

Why would time spent outdoors make a difference in myopia?

Although surprising, it actually makes some sense. As children grow and change, their lifestyle affects their bodies. An undernourished child, for example, may not grow as tall as he could have if he were better nourished. A child who develops obesity during childhood is much more likely to be obese throughout life. And the eyes of a child who always looks at things close to him could adapt to this – and lose some ability to see from afar.

Myopia has real consequences. Not only can it cause problems with everyday tasks that require you to see more than a few feet away, such as school or driving, but people with myopia are at a higher risk of blindness and retinal detachment. Problems cannot always be solved with a pair of glasses.

What can parents do?

  • Make sure your child regularly spends time outside – every day, if possible. It’s the best way to be sure they’re watching things from afar. It’s also a great way to get them to be more active, get enough vitamin D, and learn important life skills.
  • Try to limit the time your child spends near a screen. Much schoolwork these days is on screens, but kids are also spending way too much time playing on devices rather than playing with toys, drawing, or other activities. Have some ground rules. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no more than two hours of media content per day, and has a high Family Media Plan to help families achieve this.
  • Have your child’s eyesight checked regularly. Most pediatricians perform regular vision screening, but it’s important to remember that basic screening can miss vision problems. It’s a good idea for your child to have a comprehensive eye exam by an ophthalmologist or optometrist as early as kindergarten.
  • Call your pediatrician or your child’s ophthalmologist if you notice signs of a possible vision problemsuch as
    • sitting near the television or holding devices close to the face
    • squint or complain of any difficulty seeing
    • not being able to identify distant objects (when walking around, playing I Spy and pointing at distant objects!)
    • avoiding or disliking activities that involve looking closely, such as doing puzzles or looking at books, which can be a sign of farsightedness (farsightedness)
    • tilt your head to look at things
    • cover or rub one eye
    • an eye that turns inward or outward.

If you have any questions or concerns about your child’s vision, talk to your pediatrician.

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