When it comes to entertainment, persuading your children to cut down on screen time and instead spend more time playing outside could be a key factor in preventing myopia. Estimates are that myopia affects about one in three people in India and the number of children developing it is on the rise.
One in eight Indian 12-year-olds needed glasses to read the blackboard, according to researchers from the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS). The study reviewed about 10,000 students in private and government schools in Delhi and found that 13.1% children at a mean age of 11.6 years were near-sighted.
While a conclusive link between sunlight and myopia has not yet been established, many recent studies indicate that sunlight could have a protective effect against it. Genes could also play a role, researchers say, by predisposing people to nearsightedness. A study looking at a large sample of 45,000 Europeans and Asians found 24 genes linked to vision and two that play a strong role in causing nearsightedness. People with those genes were 10 times more at risk of developing myopia.
Myopia was frequent in kids studying in private schools, those with nearsighted parents or siblings, and those with higher family incomes. This did not point specifically to a genetic link but could link the eye disorder to activities such as watching television or reading. Researchers found the occurrence to be highest in children who read for more than five hours a day, and watched television, or used computer, video and mobile games, for more than two hours daily. In addition to this, the researchers also found that just 5% of these nearsighted children were active for more than two hours outdoors, compared with 47.4% of children with normal vision.
Dr Sri Ganesh, chairperson and medical director of Nethradhama Super Speciality Eye Hospital, Bangalore, said, “An
interaction between genes and the environment is believed to trigger myopia. Ambient light levels in childhood are thought to affect the growth of the eyeball, with poorly-lit environments and prolonged indoor activity aggravating the problem.”
So while it may not be possible to completely eliminate the risks of your child developing myopia, a few precautionary measures could possibly help limit or delay the development. Let your children spend time outdoors in natural light daily. This has the additional benefits of them getting some exercise and possibly limiting the time they spend in front of a screen. If your child is an avid reader, make sure they read in well-lit areas and preferably in a sitting position. Reading in poorly-lit rooms or awkward positions can cause eye strain. Eye doctors also recommend leaving a distance of about 30 cm (12 inches) between the eyes and the book or screen, so let your children know that and understand how much space that is.
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