[News release] Are our schools damaging children’s eyes?
Over the last 30 years, short sight, or myopia, has become a global health problem. The most dramatic rise has been in Singapore, Taiwan, China’s cities and elsewhere in East Asia. Rates can be as high as 80-90 per cent among children leaving secondary schools in the region. As many as a fifth of them have severe myopia and so are at high risk of eye problems in later life. In Western countries rates are increasing; although not as rapidly as in East Asia.
The Myopia Mystery
The cause of myopia, and the means to prevent it, are unclear despite more than 150 years of scientific research. Many theories have been put forward to explain why children’s eyesight gets worse as they go through school. Too much close work is one of the more popular ones, while heredity is another. Both have been hotly debated down the years.
Is Myopia Like Rickets?
The new study compares the history of school myopia with the bone disease rickets. During the 17th century, rickets was common among children in England and then reached epidemic levels through northern Europe and North America. In some cities, 80 per cent of children were affected. The remedy proved elusive until the 1920s, when scientists found that a lack of sunlight, resulting in vitamin D deficiency, was the cause of rickets. Myopia, like rickets, is a seasonal condition which seems to get worse in the winter. Recent research on myopia has revived an old theory from the 1890s, that school children who spend more time outdoors have lower levels of myopia. However, unlike rickets, low ambient light levels rather than low vitamin D levels seem to be the deciding factor in myopia.
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