Myopia Awareness Week – the crucial role of schools and teachers in myopia prevention

Generation Alpha is the generation of people born, or who will be born, between the years 2010 and 2025. It is the first generation who will be born entirely in the 21st century.

Having grown up in a world fully integrated with technology and social media, members of Gen Alpha are digital natives, and while their savviness will likely serve them well in a world becoming ever more tech focussed, days of screen domination - with seemingly less time for “green” celebrations - has seen the rates of myopia steadily increase within this generational cohort.

What is myopia? 

Commonly known as short-sightedness, myopia is a prevalent vision condition that affects 6.3 million Australians and experts predict that more than half of us will be myopic by 2050. 

Not only does myopia affect visual health but it also has significant implications for overall wellbeing, especially for young people; academic performance, sport participation and general social occasions can be adversely impacted by reduced sight which can result in lower quality of life and poor mental health over time. 

With schools serving as the primary environment where children spend a significant portion of their waking hours, teachers and educators emerge as pivotal players in myopia prevention strategies. 

Their influence extends beyond the classroom to encompass the promotion of healthy habits and the preservation of children's long-term eye health. 

To support Myopia Awareness Week 2024 (13th – 19th May), a Brien Holden Vision Institute (BHVI) and Review of Myopia Management initiative, we’re exploring the crucial role schools can play in myopia prevention. 

Getting eyes outside 

Encouraging outdoor play and incorporating outdoor time into the school day can help mitigate the risk of myopia.  

“Exposure to natural light has been shown to have a protective effect against myopia development. With the integration of digital devices like tablets and laptops into the classrooms, students are spending more and more time learning in front of screens,” said Demi Gertig, optometrist and Strategic Program and Policy Manager at Optometry Australia.

“However, contrary to popular belief, it’s not so much the screen time that creates the biggest problem in the battle against myopia; it’s the hours it takes away from getting outside and soaking up enough green time that does the real damage.” 

In fact, researchers from China and Australia have discovered that spending about an extra two hours per day outside reduces the risk of developing myopia by 50 percent. 

Educating and empowering students 

Empowering students with knowledge about myopia prevention and by instilling good eye health habits early on, we can help young people take proactive steps to reduce their risk of developing myopia. 

“Encouraging habits that promote good vision for life, such as taking breaks from screens, spending enough time outdoors and ensuring adequate lighting during study sessions, can significantly reduce the strain on eyes." 

Furthermore, from an educator perspective, organising interactive incursion opportunities with local optometrists and utilising technology such as educational videos, interactive apps or gamified learning platforms can help make the learning process engaging and enjoyable for students. 

“Integrating myopia prevention education into the school curriculum can ensure all students receive consistent and comprehensive information about myopia and good eye health in an age-appropriate way.” 

Creating ergonomic learning environments 

Adapting proper lighting, seating arrangements and screen positioning within classrooms and other teaching spaces also plays a critical role in safeguarding students' eye health and reducing the risk of myopia. 

“It’s important to position screens, such as interactive whiteboards or computer monitors, at eye level and ensure that students sit an appropriate distance away from these digital interfaces. In addition, encouraging regular breaks from screen-based activities allows students' eyes to rest and recover.”

Promoting routine eye exams 

When it comes to combatting the rise of childhood myopia, early detection and intervention play a critical role. Collaborating with local optometrists to organise information sessions for students, parents and teachers can help raise vital awareness about the importance of regular eye exams in the detection and management of myopia.  

“We cannot stress enough how essential for parents to understand the importance of regular eye exams for their children, especially if they have a family history of myopia or other vision problems. In saying this, schools are in a great position to offer resources and information about local eye care providers and encourage parents to schedule routine eye exams for their kids.”

Partnering with parents 

Providing parents with resources and information on myopia prevention empowers them to support their children's eye health effectively. When parents are equipped with knowledge about the importance of outdoor activities, proper screen time management and regular eye examinations, they can integrate these practices into their family routines.  

“This ongoing partnership between home and school ensures that children receive consistent guidance and reinforcement of healthy eye habits throughout their daily activities. As optometrists, we recognise that myopia prevention is a collaborative effort involving educators, parents and caregivers.” 

Good vision for life offers a suite of children’s vision resources for teachers, which can be accessed here, including curriculum-linked lesson ideas and activity sheets written for primary and middle year students on the topic of eye health and safety. 

Are you a parent? Here’s how you can help deter the development of myopia beyond the classroom.

Act now, see tomorrow  

When it comes to the overwhelming number of people affected by the condition, myopia is the most significant eye health threat of the 21st century.  

By shining a light on Myopia Awareness Week, from 13th – 19th May 2024, we can all speak up and spread the word of how significantly myopia is affecting children worldwide and what can be done to help prevent the condition.  

Optometry Australia is a proud supporter of Myopia Awareness Week, a joint initiative between the Brien Holden Vision Institute and Review of Myopia Management 

It is recommended that every Australian, from the time they start primary school, pay their optometrist a visit every year until age 18, then every two years as an adult, and then yearly again after turning 65, for a comprehensive eye examination.     

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

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