Did you know that myopia (or nearsightedness) is an epidemic?

“Keep Myopia Away, Go Outside and Play.” This is how a poster in Singapore reads. The reason for this advertising campaign? Asia has an epidemic: It’s an epidemic of myopia.

The truth is there’s a myopia epidemic in the United States, too. We are seeing unprecedented rates of myopia among children and adults. According to some studies, some 40-50% of young people are now being diagnosed with nearsightedness. In Asian countries like China, Japan, Korea or Singapore, this number is closer to 80 or even 90%.

_DSC2345What’s driving all this myopia? It’s our smartphones and tablets, right?

Interestingly enough, studies over the decades have bounced around a number of suspects. At first, scientists thought that myopia was caused by genetics. Studies in the 1970s and 80s disproved that genetics alone played a role in this vision problem.

International studies that occurred about two decades ago concluded that there was a strong correlation between myopia and book work. Children who spent more time reading were at higher risk. Because of increased educational demands on children in Asian countries, it seemed logical that the kids who spent the most time reading and doing school work would have the highest rates of myopia.

Recent studies are showing that the culprit may not be books or video games. Instead, they show that the biggest factor in determining whether a child will develop myopia has to do with time spent indoors. Period.

It’s possible that the dim lighting we experience indoors plays tricks on our eyes, which work harder when the light is dimmer. If a child spend more time outdoors in natural light (some suggest up to three hours a day), their eyes get a break because of the increased a amount of light.

Other scientists think that the lighting outdoors isn’t the only factor making outdoor play the best preventative medicine for myopia. They think that the opportunities to look far away into the distance – following a ball down the field or watching a bird fly in the sky – are what protects children’s near distance from fading so quickly.

What’s the moral of the story for parents and children alike? We all need some time outdoors. More time outside, looking far distances, and enjoying activities in natural light may help slow down this epidemic.