Myopia, or nearsightedness, has become incredibly prevalent in some regions of Asia where 80 to 90 percent of high school graduates are nearsighted. Why are so many children developing myopia? Some studies suggest that spending time indoors is related to higher rates of myopia. Researchers in Guangzhou, China conducted a study in which they offered first graders an extra class outside each day. The children who spent more time outside were significantly less likely to develop myopia within three years. The results suggest that spending time outdoors may prevent the onset of myopia in children.
The researchers worked with 12 primary schools to test an intervention with approximately 950 first graders. Six of the schools added a 40-minute class of outdoor activities to each school day. Parents of children in the intervention schools were encouraged to engage their children in outdoor activities, especially on weekends and holidays. The remaining six schools served as the control group. Parents of children in the control group continued their usual activities.
The rate of myopia was significantly lower for children in the intervention group. The three-year cumulative incidence rate of myopia was 30.4 percent (259 cases out of 853 eligible students) for children in the intervention group. The control group saw a 39.5 percent incidence rate of myopia (287 out of 726 students).
“Our study achieved an absolute difference of 9.1 percent in the incidence rate of myopia, representing a 23 percent relative reduction in incident myopia after 3 years,” state the study authors. “[T]his is clinically important because small children who develop myopia are most likely to progress to high myopia, which increases the risk of pathological myopia.”
Delaying myopia in young children may have long-term benefits for eye health. Parents looking to reduce the risk of myopia in their children should encourage them to spend more time outside.
This research is published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
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