The Unseen Pandemic: why “green time” is vital for combatting Australia’s rising rates of childhood myopia

Earlier this month, the Cyberspace Administration of China released a proposal detailing its desire to mandate restrictions that would limit minors to using electronic devices for no more than two hours per day in a bid to address the nation’s growing childhood myopia crisis.

This follows Taiwanese lawmakers introducing the Child and Youth Welfare and Protection Act, allowing the government to fine parents of children younger than 18 who are using electronic devices for extended periods of time.

With myopia (or shortsightedness as it is sometimes known) at epidemic levels in Asia, let's look at the rising rates of juvenile myopia from an Australian perspective.

What myopia rates look like in Australia

“Here in Australia, it’s estimated that approximately six million of us are living with myopia. Myopia causes blurred distance vision and can make it hard to see objects far away clearly, such as the classroom whiteboard,” said Luke Arundel, Chief Clinical Officer at Optometry Australia.

By 2050 it is estimated that around 55 percent of Aussies will be living with myopia with rates amongst younger Australians increasing sharply, which makes it concerning that an Optometry Australia survey of 1,000 Australians finding that around 1 in 3 kids still hadn’t visited an optometrist for a routine eye exam by the age of 16.

Alarmingly, findings from this 2022 Vision Index Report found a staggering 31 percent of parents believed a visit to the optometrist was not necessary until after signs or symptoms of vision issues had presented.

“As poor vision can impact a child’s development, we recommend that all children have a full eye examination before starting school, even if there are no known problems with their vision, and then regularly every two to three years. Many kids just assume its normal for the world to look blurry and may not report any symptoms to their parents.”

How lifestyle factors are contributing

While many parents assume the biggest culprit in the staggering rise of myopia in Generations Z and Alpha is the amount of daily screen time they are being exposed to, it is what they are missing out on that is presenting more significant issues.

“Researchers from China and Australia have discovered that spending about an extra 1.25 hours per day outside reduces the risk of developing myopia by 50 percent. When we consider that our 2022 Vision Index Report found that over half of parents surveyed said their children were spending at least four hours in front of screens every day, we can understand the implications this is having on ‘green time’.”

When it comes to managing childhood myopia and slowing the progression of the condition, early diagnosis is essential to ensure better long-term outcomes for eye health is possible.

"High, or advanced, myopia is associated with an increased lifelong risk of various eye diseases like cataracts, glaucoma and problems with the retina (the light sensitive layer at the back of the eye). This makes it critical for children to see an optometrist early in their developmental years to ensure any issues are caught quickly.”

Why having regular eye exams is essential

Optometrists now have the tools and technology to not only provide clear vision for these kids but to slow down the progression of myopia.

Specially designed spectacles and contact lenses with advaced optics and a medicated eye drop called atropine have all been scientifically proven to be able to slow the development of this condition.

In between optometry visits, there are other ways parents can help mitigate the risk of children developing myopia.

“We suggest caregivers encourage as much outdoor play as possible, advocate for regular breaks away from phones, iPads and television, make sure screens are positioned at least an arm’s length from the eyes and dissuade their kids from using screens in dimmed rooms.”

Child Myopia has also created a vision simulator that allows you to experience the classroom as a child with myopia would see it. You can check it out here.

To schedule an appointment with your local optometrist, use our easy search tool here.

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