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Nearsightedness sharply up in younger kids as a result of COVID-19 closures

Published: Aug. 16, 2021 at 5:51 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The shutdown of schools and outdoor activities in 2020 appear to be having a major impact on the vision of children, especially younger children.

A comprehensive study showed a sharp jump in myopia, or nearsightedness, in younger kids, and experts said online learning is a major factor.

Study links nearsightedness in kids to distance learning, COVID-19 closures
Study links nearsightedness in kids to distance learning, COVID-19 closures(None)

“The amount of up-close work our children are doing ... that’s one of the risk factors for developing nearsightedness,” said Dr. Rupa Wong, a pediatric ophthalmologist, at Honolulu Eye Clinic.

The study, published in the Journal of American Medical Association, made the connection after following 123,535 children for the past six years.

“They had been looking at nearsightedness in kids since 2015 and it was the perfect opportunity, they just isolated the data from the 2020 year,” Wong said.

All the children who participated are from Asia, which was the first place to shutdown for COVID-19, so researchers were able to track their progress for a longer period of time.

The study used photo screenings, which measure myopia or nearsightedness, and found “a substantial myopic shift for younger school-aged children.”

The most dramatic change was in 6 year olds. The prevalence of nearsightedness appeared to be about three times higher in 2020 than in the previous years.

JAMA report shows the prevalence of myopia in kids during COVID-19 shutdowns
JAMA report shows the prevalence of myopia in kids during COVID-19 shutdowns(None)

For 7 year olds, it was twice as high.

For 8 year olds, 1.4 times as high.

Those 9 and up saw very little change in vision in 2020 despite the increased use of devices for school.

JAMA report shows the prevalence of myopia in kids during COVID-19 shutdowns
JAMA report shows the prevalence of myopia in kids during COVID-19 shutdowns(None)

“We know younger eyes are more sensitive to environmental changes,” Wong said, adding that older kids often had devices already to watch movies, play video games or text, so their eyes adjusted to the up-close work.

Wong said outdoor time also impacts vision and shutdowns prevented kids from playing sports outside or playing with friends.

Studies in Australia showed at least two hours of outdoor activity helped stop the progression of myopia.

Wong said it doesn’t have to be sports, it can be walking or even sitting outside.

“We’re not exactly sure why that is, it could be the sunlight, the ultraviolet rays, vitamin D.”

If there is another shutdown due to the rise in COVID-19 cases, Wong suggest parents make time for outdoor activities, and make your child take frequent breaks from the devices.

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