Myopia, often called nearsightedness, is the leading eye disability in the world. One researcher recently called it a “significant global public health concern,” because about one-third of the population suffers from it. The number of individuals with myopia is estimated to grow from 1.6 billion worldwide today to 2.5 billion by the year 2020.
When a study recently appeared in the January issue of Optometry and Vision Science, many were surprised to read that spending two to three hours a day outdoors can markedly lower a child’s risk of developing this vision ailment. According to the research, the critical factor for reducing the development of myopia in children seems to be total time spent outdoors during daylight hours. Sports or physical activity does not appear to play a role: studies found that both active and passive outdoor activities had a protective effect on vision, while sports played indoors were found not to have this effect.
Donald Mutti, OD, PhD, reports that a child’s chances of becoming myopic--if he or she has two myopic biological parents--are about 6 in 10 for children engaging in 0-5 hours per week of outdoor activity, but the risk drops to 2 in 10 when outdoor activity exceeds 14 hours a week.
This appears to be a great reason to push kids outside, away from the television and video games, and into the daylight. What is it exactly that provides the protective effects of outdoor time? The reasons are not yet clear, and more research is needed. But it certainly looks like something to consider seriously for those children or grandchildren sitting in that living room!