Spending more time outside could lower risk of nearsightedness in children, study finds

Children who spend just one extra hour a week outside lower their risk of developing nearsightedness by 15 per cent, a new study from the University of Waterloo has found.

“There’s a school of thought that people are spending more time up close, they’re using more time on the screen, there’s probably more studying than before,” lead investigator Mike Yang told CBC KW’s The Morning Edition host Craig Norris on Wednesday.

“Some of the new research has shifted away from the close work by saying doing close work is taking time away from outdoor time, and it’s really the decreased outdoor time that’s causing things to shift to a younger age.”

Myopia increasing in younger children

The researcher started the study knowing nearsightedness – or myopia – is increasing in children at a younger age. Where historically, children were diagnosed with myopia when they were 12 or 13, now they’re seeing children closer to six or seven years old who are nearsighted.

‘It’s something about the environment, not necessarily what particular activity they’re doing.’
– Mike Yang, clinical scientist and co-lead study investigator

The study was completed by the University of Waterloo’s School of Optometry and Vision Science and the vision loss agency CNIB. It was released Tuesday.

It used 172 students from the public and Catholic school boards in Waterloo region and found 17.5 per cent of the students were nearsighted. Students of parents with nearsightedness were twice as likely to have myopia.

Nearsightedness increases from six per cent to 28.9 per cent between the ages of six and 13, the study found.

child eye exam

Annual eye exams are important, but Keith Gordon with CNIB says parents also need to make sure their children are spending less time in front of screens and more time outdoors. (Syda Productions/Shutterstock)

More eye exams, less screen time

Keith Gordon, vice-president of research at CNIB, said they expect the results would be the same in children across the country and stressed the importance of annual eye exams.

“However even with annual check-ups, parents need to ensure that their children spend less time in front of screens and more time outside, even if it’s just one extra hour a week,” Gordon said.

Yang, who co-lead the research, said awareness is the first step and the trend towards younger children developing myopia could be reversed if people take the right steps. There are also treatment options.

He said parents may want to encourage their children to read outside because even that would be beneficial.

“It’s something about the environment, not necessarily what particular activity they’re doing,” he said. “Outdoors, the eyes, I would say, are actually more relaxed and being in that relaxed state does seem to have an effect on making the eyes not going myopic.”

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