Myopia boom, myopia epidemic – call it what you like, but we’re currently in the midst of a rapid increase in myopia, or short sightedness, and it’s got eye health professionals very concerned. At this rate, they reckon, about half the world’s population will have myopia by 2050.
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Much of the increase in short sightedness is a form called juvenile myopia, which develops in school-age children. The younger you are when it starts, the worse it can finally get. High myopia is when the focus error is stronger than -5.00 diopters, and objects beyond 20cm in front of you are blurry.
In Australia it’s estimated that about one-third of school leavers have myopia, and about three or four percent have high myopia. It’s the people with high myopia who are more likely to suffer serious eye health problems later in life.
In Australia the rate of myopia has more than doubled since the 1970s. In parts of Asia, however, it has increased much more rapidly, and is now as high as 95% in some cities – and about 20% have high myopia. About half those are expected to suffer major vision loss in older age.
Lots of close-up work – reading, sewing, studying, and especially in recent years the use of handheld devices – is often blamed for increased risk of myopia, but in fact its role is only small.
Large-scale population studies, backed by laboratory studies, have found that the most significant factor in the rapid increase in myopia is time spent indoors during childhood when the eye is developing. Kids are spending more time indoors for various reasons – and yes, it does include watching TV, playing computer games and time with phones and tablets rather than playing outside.