We’ve all heard the experts tell us that time outside has huge benefits for kids. It helps them concentrate and focus in school, boosts learning, helps fight obesity, and is even beneficial for social development. Research has proven that recess is good for kids: “A recent multicenter study of more than 11,000 eight- and nine-year-olds, led by pediatric researchers at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, in New York, showed that kids who had at least 15 minutes of recess a day (even just 15 minutes!) behaved better in class.” (from cnn.com)
Today I read about another important reason to send the kids outside. It may save their eyesight!
I read a fascinating article in Science News that indicates that kids who spend more time outdoors doing physical activity were less likely to become nearsighted. The article explains “too much time spent indoors may be behind a surge in nearsightedness.” I went on to do a bit more reading on the subject.
Nearsightedness (myopia) has increased steadily in North America and Europe in the past few decades. A National Eye Institute (NEI) study found that between 1971-72 and 1999-2004 the prevalence of myopia, or nearsightedness, increased from 25 to 42% for people ages 12 to 54 here in the U.S. That’s an increase of almost 66%! (nei.nih.gov) Similarly, there has been an explosion of nearsightedness in East Asia. The Science News article shared this startling fact… a recent study of young men in Seoul and college students in Shanghai find that more than 95% are nearsighted. Similar findings have been found in other urban areas in the Asia. This rising rate of myopia have led to declarations of a “myopia epidemic.”
Look at this chart from the National Eye Institute about the increase in myopia from 2000 to 2010 here in the U.S.:
image from nei.nih.gov
Society has changed dramatically in the past couple of centuries with many of the changes coming in the past fifty years… kids spending large portions of their days in classrooms and doing “near work” indoors like reading, writing, working on computers, and watching TV. All these things place unnatural demands on the eyes.
A few years ago some studies showed a link between nearsightedness and limited outdoor time during childhood. Scientists aren’t yet sure how outdoor exposure can help prevent myopia but some speculate it could be the natural light, the relaxation of the eye as it focuses on things at a distance, the broad field of vision, the use of peripheral vision or a combination of all those things. Studies have show huge increases in nearsightedness in urban areas, but this hasn’t shown up in rural areas.
One scientist explained the importance of outdoor time this way: “If you have two nearsighted parents and you engage in a low level of outdoor activity, your chances of becoming myopic by the eighth grade are about 60 percent,” he says. “If children engaged in over 14 hours per week of outdoor activity, their chances of becoming nearsighted were now only about 20 percent. So it was quite a dramatic reduction in the risk of becoming myopic.” (npr.org) Even playing sports inside doesn’t seem to have the same benefit as outdoor time, so it’s not necessarily even stopping your kids from doing ‘near work’ like reading or watching TV that would help prevent nearsightedness. It’s the wonders and benefits of being outdoors.
The epidemic of nearsightedness is projected by the National Institute of Health to increase, but at least there’s something we can do to help protect our kids.
image from nei.nih.gov
So, the lesson I learned from all this is send the kids outside to play!
Interested in learning more? Be sure to go read the Science News article, “Urban Eyes”
Read this NPR article (or listen) to the story: Medical Detectives Focus on Myopia
Another interesting article is Genetic vs. Environmental Risk in the Mediation of Myopia