Remember back in the ‘good ‘ol days’ when our parents would send us outside to play until the sun went down? We were encouraged to play outside to get ‘fresh air’ and likely to get out of their hair while dinner preparations happened. What has happened? With the increase in technology, less school organized sports, and a perceived danger for children to play by themselves outside, the frequency for outdoor physical activity is trending down at an alarming rate. In fact, 73% of parents report their kids aged 5-19 watch TV, read, or play video and computer games during the after-school period between the end of the school day and suppertime.
So what does this trend mean for your kids eyesight? New Canadian research out of the University of Waterloo’s School of Optometry and Vision Science, found nearsightedness in children increases drastically from Grade 1 to Grade 8 in local schools, and almost a third of the cases are undiagnosed and uncorrected. “Historically, myopia started at age 12 or 13, but now it is showing up more often in kids six or seven years old,” said Dr. Mike Yang, lead investigator and clinical scientist with the Centre for Contact Lens Research (CCLR), Waterloo. “Our eyesight as a population is deteriorating and at a much younger age.” (1)
These cases in which they kids are undiagnosed, can be detrimental to their academic experience. “Kids don’t know they can’t see the blackboard,” said Prof. Deborah Jones, co-lead investigator on the study and a clinical professor at the School of Optometry and Vision Science at Waterloo. “This kind of gradual deterioration in eyesight easily goes unnoticed without regular eye exams.”
So what is causing this trend with our newest generation? Researchers may have stumbled upon a reason: the lack of outdoor play. According to the report, children of a parent with myopia (nearsightedness) have more than double the risk of developing it themselves. However, the study found that spending one additional hour per week outdoors significantly lowered the odds of children becoming nearsighted.
An additional study out of China, the researchers looked at about 1,900 schoolchildren. The scientists found that the kids who had been instructed to spend more time outdoors, over three years, were 23 percent less likely to develop nearsightedness during this time than those who had not been instructed to spend more time outdoors.
Based on the results, the researchers recommend that children spend more time outdoors because of the potential benefits to their eyesight. In order to maximize the benefit of outdoor play, we should further increase the outdoor time by using school recesses and encouraging parents bring their children outside on weekends.
The long and the short of this information, is get outside! Children who spend just one extra hour a week outside lower their risk of developing nearsightedness by 15 per cent.
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