Further evidence that — as much as our society values technology and thinks that all things high-tech need to be part of a child’s education (even despite solid proof of the benefits)– turning off the tech devices and going outdoors is good for you. On Monday, a new study about the relationship between playing outdoors and developing myopia or nearsightedness was presented at the American Academy of Ophthamology’s yearly meeting.
Under Dr. Anthony Khawaja of the University of Cambridge, researchers studied 10,000 children and discovered that, for every extra hour per week a child spent engaging in outdoor activity, his or her likelihood of suffering from nearsightedness fell by 2 percent. Overall, children with nearsightedness spent 3.7 fewer hours per week outside on average than children with normal eyesight or children who were farsighted.
In some parts of Asia, rates of myopia have increased by 80 percent among children; Khawaja noted a Chinese study that said that, when Chinese children with myopia had to be outside for more hours on a weekly basis, their myopia decreased.
Khawaja underscored that it’s not clear why outdoor activity would improve distance eyesight: It could be the greater exposure to long-distance views, the effect of spending less time at close-up activities such as reading, Web-surfing or video-gaming, the physical activity that might come with outdoor play or the greater exposure to natural ultraviolet light. If physicians are going to recommend that kids get more outdoor time as a low-cost way to drive down myopia rates, said Khawaja, they’d better learn first what it is about being outdoors that helps.
Some anecdotal evidence: While a number of my relatives have myopia, I definitely preferred to be inside (reading and studying) as a child; I had to get my first pair of glasses when I was a junior in high school after the chalkboard in precalculus class started to look blurry. My teenage son Charlie — who is, admittedly, not a reader — spends lots of time each day outside and has 20/20 vision. Indeed, he seems to have some night vision, based on the ease with which he moves on evening walks in our neighborhood.
Children in the US certainly spend far less time outside than they used to. Even if the connection between increased time outdoors and lower rates of myopia can’t be further proven, Khawaja’s and his colleagues’ findings offer yet another reason to encourage kids to get up and go into the great outdoors.
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