eyeglasses with sky and tree in the background

Nearsightedness in Children: Being Outdoors Helps!

More kids today are nearsighted than a generation ago. Is there anything we can do about it? Today, I’ll review some of the more recent research about whether parents can help lower their kids’ risks of nearsightedness. I’ll discuss how spending time outdoors may help, and think about whether changing “near work” habits may make a difference.

What is nearsightedness?

Also called myopia, if someone is nearsighted, it means they have trouble seeing far away. It’s depends on where an image focuses inside the eye. Sometimes the cause is completely due to a genetic syndrome. However, nearsightedness usually has more than one cause, and it does run in families. Kids with parents who are nearsighted are more likely to also be nearsighted.

Environment also plays a role. Since we can’t change genes, that’s what we’ll talk more about today.

Why do we worry about myopia in kids?

If left untreated, myopia can sometimes progress to more serious eye conditions later on in life, including things that can cause blindness (macular degeneration and retinal detachment, for example). This is beyond the daily struggles that come with not seeing well. Myopia in the United States is usually diagnosed in kids around age 7. Not being able to see well in school can have obvious far-reaching effects.
As noted in the above linked article, myopia is more common in Asia. This is not thought to be exclusively due to genetics.

What can prevent nearsightedness in children?

Many studies show that time in natural light outdoors decreases the risk of nearsightedness in children. This review article found a variety of studies, each with their own limits, that all point to the same conclusion. More time outside means a child is less likely to need glasses for myopia.
The studies vary a lot in detail. Most are from Asia. Methods of measuring outdoor time varied. Ages of kids in these studies ranges from 6 up to age 20. What this means is we don’t have a definitive answer to exactly how much time is needed outdoors to prevent myopia. While it will be helpful to have such information, the take-home point is the same. This research shows us that time outside is good specifically for eye health. Some is better than none! And, as long as sun protection is used, more may be better.

It’s likely related to the brightness of natural light. As discussed next, giving the eyes a chance to focus on things at different distances may help too.

How else does environment affect children’s eyesight?

Scientists also study the effects of “near-work,” including things like reading or using a tablet. As with other related research, the definition varies based on the study. Here, the results are less conclusive. It seems that prolonged near work may increase the risk for nearsightedness. General recommendations include taking a break every 30 minutes or so when reading or doing other tasks at a close distance. A break can be as simple as getting up to walk around.

What can be done indoors to prevent nearsightedness?

Maybe we can take the benefits of the outdoors (natural light and varying sights) when doing near tasks or working indoors. Other research shows that brightly lit rooms indoors can also help prevent myopia. So, if someone isn’t able to go outside, working with adequate lighting may be useful.

Summary: Simple Ways to Adjust the Environment in Order to Prevent Myopia in Kids

Like many things with growing children, we want to create an environment that helps them develop in healthy ways. When it comes to eye health, there are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Spend time outdoors (with adequate sun protection).
  • Minimize prolonged activities working at close distance
  • If near work is necessary, take breaks every 30 minutes or so.
  • Use adequate (bright) light when working indoors.

Maya M. Mahmood, D.O., FAAP is a board-certified pediatrician and mom. She is passionate about parents having evidence-based information to help their families be healthier.

Similar Posts