It looks like mom was right – again.
A growing body of evidence is suggesting that the hours spent glued to the television as well as electronic devices is ruining the vision of children and teenagers. Genetics, a factor previously thought to be the main reason for being short-sighted, might now have some competition as a key culprit in deteriorating vision for children and teenagers.
The most recent study published by Ulster University found that the rate of short-sightedness among young people has doubled in the last 50 years. 23 percent of British 12- and 13-year-olds now suffer from myopia, a term used to describe a condition in which distant objects appear blurred while close objects can be seen clearly. In the 1960s, this figure was just 10 percent.
East Asian countries are much worse off, with 90 percent of children being short-sighted.
This rising number of children experiencing myopia is being blamed partly on a lack of exposure to daylight. Dopamine, a chemical messenger in the brain, is important for eye health and is released by daylight, says David Allamby, an ophthalmologist and medical director of Focus eye clinic. “Not having enough daylight may cause the eye to grow in an uncontrolled manner,” he says. “It not only means children are having to wear glasses or contact lenses, with all the stigma that can bring, but being short-sighted increases the risk of a range of serious eye conditions.”
Myopia can run in families. For years, it was thought that too much close-up work was to blame because it alters the shape of the eye as it tries to constantly focus on close-up images. This would certainly lend credibility to going outdoors being a source of eye improvement as focus typically shifts from close-up images to those much farther away.
One Chinese study found that being outside for an extra 40 minutes a day reduced short-sightedness in children. In a three-year trial following 900 children, one group was given an extra 40 minutes outside at the end of the school day. At the end of the trial, 30 percent of those who spent more time outdoors experienced short-sightedness, compared to 40 percent who stayed indoors.
Perhaps complicating the matter, the American Optometric Association found in a 2014 survey that 80 percent of children reported burning, itchy or tired eyes after using electronic devices for extended periods. Blinking helps reduce eyestrain by lubricating the eyes, and people tend to blink a lot less when they are staring at electronic screens. In fact, people normally blink every 3 to 4 seconds; when staring at an electronic screen, that period increases to once every 10 to 12 seconds.
The average 8-to-11-year-old now spends 4.5 hours a day in front of a screen, while teenagers rack up an average of 6.5 hours of daily screen time. Therefore, we can only expect this eyesight epidemic to get progressively worse. Making matters even more severe is the closeness at which phones are held to the face due to their relatively small print, which makes the eyes work even harder in order to focus.
Not surprisingly, diet also plays a role in the proper functioning of the eyes. To help improve eyesight, a diet rich in carotenoids should be considered. This includes foods such as carrots, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, spinach, broccoli, goji berries, cantaloupe, and apricots. People can combine the best of both worlds for their eyesight by choosing to eat these foods while on an electronic-free picnic.