We have all read columns and news articles about how much time our youth spend in front of either a TV screen or a computer screen or a phone screen. They discuss how little time kids are spending out in the great out-of-doors simply playing. I have always wanted my children to be children as long as they could, not wanting them to think that they couldn’t go out and roll around in the grass or kick a ball or simply enjoy being.
In a study by the National Eye Institute the number of Americans with myopia, being nearsighted, has soared by 66 percent since the early 1970s. Other findings show that recent high school graduates in China and other East Asian countries, as many as 90 percent are thought to be nearsighted.
Myopia results when eyeballs are longer than normal, changing the angle at which light enters the eye and as a result affecting the ability to focus on distant objects. Usually the disorder is a complex exchange of genetics and environment that usually begins before adolescence, when the eye is growing. Experts are now seeing the connection to the elevated rates of myopia and the elevated rates at which young eyes stare at screens.
A study published this month in JAMA Ophthalmology suggests the side effect of all the screen watching is that it is keeping children inside. This study is one of a growing number of data that indicates that a lack of direct sunlight may reshape the human eye and lead to impaired vision.
Researchers at King’s College London, the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine gave vision exams to a base of over 3,000 older European men and women. Interviewing them at length about their education, careers and how often they remembered being outside during different stages in their lives. They then compared this biographical information with historical data about sunlight, originally compiled for research on skin cancer and other issues. Strong correlations were found between current eyesight and the volunteers’ lifetime exposure to sunlight.
Of course sunlight is associated with harmful impacts also, but the researchers suggest that with adequate cautions like sunscreen and avoiding midday sunlight, young people should be able to avoid those harmful risks while potentially bolstering their vision.
Maybe it is time for our kids to actually act like kids and go outside and play. It could be time to buy your favorite child a new soccer ball.
(Source: The New York Times Magazine)
Susan Woody has been a home and garden writer for more than 20 years and is a master gardener.