The concerning global epidemic of myopia, or short-sightedness, may be water cooler conversation today after Thursday night's ABC's 7:30 Report, but for Optometry Australia that conversation has been a much longer one – and crucial to a new campaign to curb the trend.
The message: Get outside, give your eyes a break from digital devices and see your optometrist regularly.
Why have the national conversation about myopia prevention?
The World Health Organisation has said short-sightedness, or myopia, already affects about 30 per cent of the world's population.
That figure is expected to rise to 50 per cent by 2050 and researchers believe this is linked to the amount of time children are spending indoors.
According to the Brien Holden Vision Institute, the number of Australians with myopia is expected to increase from around four million today to 22 million by 2050.
Considering 'high myopia' comes with a risk of visual impairment and blindness caused by retinal detachment, cataract, glaucoma and macular problems, Optometry Australia's preventative eye health campaign is a timely one.
According to Deloitte Access Economics the cost of vision disorders to our economy is already estimated at $16.6 billion per annum – that’s a massive $45.5m per day or $1.9m per hour. Now imagine the cost on the health system if myopia rates rise five-fold.
Surveys by OPSM show that 86% of Australians rank loss of sight as their number one health concern. Despite this, more than half (53%) admit they would not get their eyes tested if their GP recommended it.
Why we need to spend more time outdoors
Thursday night's 7:30 Report interviewed Professor Kathryn Rose, head of orthoptics at University of Technology Sydney, who worked on the Sydney Myopia Study, which assessed the vision of 4,000 school children. She said she believed a lack of outdoor time was key to the alarming rise in myopia.
"An eye that's myopic is an eye that's growing too fast, too quickly and what we are actually thinking may be occurring is that when children spend time outdoors they are getting enough release of retinal dopamine to actually regulate the growth of their eye," Professor Rose said.
Optometry Australia on message
Last year Optometry Australia become active in campaigning for increased outdoor time for children after heeding ground-breaking new research by Australian optometrists.
Optometrist and lead researcher on the research project, Associate Professor Scott Read, who is the director of research at QUT's School of Optometry and Vision Science, said that children need to spend more than an hour and preferably at least two hours a day outside to help prevent myopia from developing and progressing.
Prof Scott’s research suggested that ‘near work’ on computer and other screens does not itself cause myopia although screens are responsible for children spending more time indoors than in previous years.
Visit your optometrist
With one in 5 Australian children living with an undetected vision problem, Optometry Australia is urging parents to get their children's eyes examined before they start school.
If you have any concerns about your children's screen time and its effect on their vision, talk to your optometrist about this today.
Find an optometrist in your area.