90 percent of school children in major cities in East Asia are now nearsighted, with researchers suggesting that long hours spent inside studying and less time — or no time — allotted to being in outside light are the reason. That is, heightened educational pressures and lifestyle changes such as staying indoors (perhaps, the better also to use computers and electronic devices instead of throwing and catching a ball?) are taking a toll on a whole generation of children.
Myopia occurs in those who eyesight is blurred beyond 6.6 feet; it is often caused by an elongation of the eyeball when people are young. Professor Ian Morgan of the Australian National University, the lead author of The Lancet study, tells the BBC that 20 to 30 percent on average of a population have myopia and this is indeed the average level of the condition in the U.K.
But up to 90 percent of young adults in East Asia are now nearsighted and, as they age, a “major health problem” lies ahead for them.†Moreover, 10 to 20 percent of East Asian school children have high myopia, which can lead to vision loss, visual impairment and even blindness.
Morgan argues that the intense emphasis on academics among children in East Asia leads to them staying indoors and poring over books and text, thereby preventing them from going out of doors and getting exposure to daylight. Two to three hours of natural light can counterbalance all that studying but, as children in East Asia nap in the midpoint of the day, they lose out on exposure to that prime light.
Previously, scientists had thought there was a strong genetic component among people from China, Japan, Korea and other countries to develop myopia. But myopia is on the rise in Singapore where “large numbers of people” are from Chinese, Malay and Indian backgrounds, suggesting that, while genetics cannot be completely ruled out, environmental factors (such as a cultural imperative to emphasize intensive studying) play a significant part.
The study‘s findings are a possible indictment of, indeed, the huge regard placed on school children in East Asia to study and forego all else, as required by their success-hungry parents and “tiger mothers.” Playing, and just getting outside where the light is not electric, but natural, and where you have to set your eyes on something either than letters on a page, are not indulgences or wastes of children’s time, but essential to help them refocus and “recharge.”
Going outside provides valuable time out in our increasingly sedentary 21st-century lifestyle and, thus, huge benefits to health, today and tomorrow.
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Photo by Rex Pe