The eyesight of Canadian kids appears to be degrading faster than in previous generations, and the reduced number of hours spent outside could be the reason.
A study conducted jointly by the University of Waterloo School of Optometry and Vision Science and the Canadian National Institute of the Blind determined that nearsightedness in children increases dramatically between Grades 1 and 8, with almost a third of these cases going undiagnosed and uncorrected.
“Historically, myopia (nearsightedness) 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. “Our eyesight as a population is deteriorating and at a much younger age.”
The study found that myopia increases from six to 28.9% between the ages of six and 13. Data were collected on children from the Waterloo Region and Waterloo Catholic District School Boards, of which 17.5% were deemed nearsighted.
Many cases of myopia in children go undetected, so parents are encouraged to be cognizant of the warning signs.
Myopia is an inherited condition known as a refractive error. In order to see properly, the cornea and the lens must properly focus or “refract” light onto the retina. If the length or shape of the eye is not ideal, the light may get focused incorrectly, resulting in a blurred image on the retina. Those with myopia can see objects up close but not those that are far away. Kids who have a parent with myopia have double the risk of developing it themselves.
Because myopia typically worsens up to the age of 21, the earlier onset age of nearsightedness in today’s children indicates that they may experience a much greater decline in their eyesight over their lifetime compared with previous generations.
The cultural shift toward everything technological might be the underlying root of the problem. The study found that spending just one additional hour per week outdoors significantly lowered the odds of children becoming nearsighted.
Dr. Keith Gordon, Vice-President Research at CNIB, outlined that school-aged children should get an eye exam every year, as recommended by the Canadian Association of Optometrists.
“However even with annual check-ups, parents need to ensure that their children spend less time in front of screens and more time outside, even if it’s just one extra hour a week.”
If you notice any of the following signs or symptoms, let your family eye doctor know: