The Growing Problem of Myopia: Are Smartphones to Blame?

Ever heard of myopia? Perhaps you might think you haven’t, but chances are you actually have heard of this condition by this more common name – nearsightedness. If recent research is correct, smartphones are causing this problem to become more common amongst children and teenagers.

The US vs. Asia

For those with unfamiliar with eye issues, nearsightedness is characterized by difficulties in seeing objects that are relatively far away. Nearsighted is an very common condition in the United States, afflicting roughly two in five
Americans. Perhaps more alarmingly, nearly a third of US children and teenagers are nearsighted, a figure which only seems to be increasing.

As bad as myopia is in the United States, this condition is almost universally present in certain metropolitan areas of Singapore, South Korea, and China. In such dense urban environments, nearly 90% of inhabitants suffer from nearsightedness.

Too Much Screen Time

So what’s behind this troubling trend? For some youths, poor vision can be blamed on faulty genes. But according to Dr. David Momnie, president of Massachusetts-based Chicopee Eye Care, smartphones, tablets and computer screens
deserve a large slice of the blame. In an interview with the journal BusinessWest, Momni noted that “kids are looking at computers at a very early age — iPhones, iPads, and computers — more and more. When I was a kid, when we were in the car, we played the license-plate game. Now, kids are on their phones or watching a movie on long trips. They’re getting three, four, five hours a day, or even more, of intense, concentrated near- point work, staring at a small screen eight inches away.”

Since the 1980s, the use and prevalence of home computers has grown substantially. In 1984, just 15% of American children could use a computer from the comfort of their own home. Today, computers can be found in more than four out of five homes in the United States, while smartphones have likewise become commonplace.

Cutting Back on Screen Time

The American Optometric Association has taken notice of this issue, and in response has encourage children to adhere to what is known as the 20- 20-20 rule. This guideline states that, for every 20 minutes spent staring at a computer/smartphone screen, a person should direct their vision towards something roughly 20 feet away for a full 20
seconds.

In addition to the 20-20-20 rule, Momnie also contends that parents should encourage their children to spend more time outdoors. “Studies have shown that being outdoors two hours a day causes a significant reduction in nearsightedness. In Singapore, they’re redesigning classrooms to let more light in, and making more time for outdoor
recess.” “Parents can say, ‘you’re allowed one hour a day, and then you have to spend an hour or two outdoors.’ Kick them outdoors during the weekends, and they probably shouldn’t play on their devices during the evening. And for kids under 2, don’t even let them near one of these things. Even a video game on TV is better than looking at an iPhone or iPad.”

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