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Why spending time outdoors could help your child's eyesight

From BBC - December 27, 2017

Kids seem to spend endless hours on smartphones, games consoles, computers and tablets these days.

Playing on electronic devices certainly does not help their waistlines, but do you ever wonder what regular device use is doing to their eyesight?

While there is not much research out there yet about the impact of screens on eyesight - after all the iPhone was first unveiled by Apple in only 2007 - experts are concerned about growing levels of short-sightedness in children.

And they suggest the best thing parents can do to prevent it is to encourage youngsters to spend more time outdoors in the sunlight.

How short-sightedness is on the rise

There has been a massive rise around the globe in short-sightedness - or myopia as it's officially known - over recent decades.

"We know that myopia or short-sightedness is becoming more common," says Chris Hammond, professor of ophthalmology at King's College London and consultant ophthalmic surgeon at St Thomas' Hospital.

"It has reached epidemic levels in East Asia, Singapore, Taiwan, South Korea, where approaching 90% of 18-year-olds are now short-sighted.

"In Europe, it's potentially getting up to 40% to 50% of young adults in their mid-20s who are short-sighted now in Western Europe. It's been gradually rising over the decades of the 20th Century from around 20-30%."

Why has it become so much more common?

Annegret Dahlmann-Noor, consultant ophthalmologist at Moorfields Eye Hospital in London says lack of natural light seems to be the key issue.

"The main factor seems to be a lack of exposure to direct sunlight, because children who study a lot and who use computers or smartphones or tablet computers a lot have less opportunity to run around outside and are less exposed to sunshine and because of that seem to be at more risk of developing short-sightedness."

Prof Hammond says: "It may be that there's no coincidence that in East Asian countries, the most myopic ones all correlate with the maths league tables.

"These kids are being pushed with very intensive education from a very young age and spend a lot of time indoors studying everything close up and very little time outdoors.

"Therefore the concern is that all close work - like playing with the iPad and iPhone - carries the potential that it could make them more short-sighted."

So should we stop or limit screen use?

Well that's much easier said than done! Any parent will know that youngsters are like dogs with bones when it comes to their beloved phones and trying to get them off their devices is pretty much impossible - certainly without a massive argument.

Dr Dahlmann-Noor, who is a mother of three, says trying to stop screen use is probably an unrealistic aspiration.

"You can only tell them that it might make their eyes uncomfortable, it might make them short-sighted andthey should not use it as much as they like to.

"But, hand on heart, I do not think we can get away from this because they also have to do their school homework on laptops and iPads and they do their searches for background information on screens.

Time outdoors is the key

And do not forget your veg

How would I know if my child was becoming short-sighted?

Hope for tomorrow's treatment

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