Explosive growth of short-sightedness among school children during pandemic
More school children have developed short-sightedness and the condition of those who are already myopic has worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic, a study by the Chinese University of Hong Kong has found.
Researchers say the suspension of face-to-face classes was the cause of the “myopia boom” as children are spending more time indoors and on the screens of electronic gadgets.
The research team from the university’s Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences compared the vision development of 709 children between the ages of six and eight from December 2019 to January 2020 (COVID-19 cohort) and that of another 1,084 children of the same ages who were the subject of a three-year vision study before January 2020 (the control group).
It found that almost 30% of the COVID-19 cohort developed myopia, and that the figure was 2.5 times higher than the 12% for the control group.
The study noted that the life mode of children before and after the COVID-19 pandemic changed, with the COVID-19 cohort spending just 24 minutes outdoors on average per day, or less than one-third of the control group’s 75 minutes.
Besides, while the control group spent just 2.5 hours staring at the screens of electronic gadgets on average per day, the COVID-19 cohort were spending as much as seven hours.
Speaking at a press conference on the study, 8-year-old Nicole Leung said she used to spend only half an hour a day doing homework, but during the pandemic she spent three to four hours.
"Before the pandemic, there were about two hours of outdoor activities a day, but now there are almost no outdoor activities during the weekdays, and few on weekends," she said.
Nicole's mother, who would only be identified as Jessica, said Nicole’s myopia worsened from 400 to 575 degrees in just six months during the pandemic.
She said that she would let Nicole enjoy more outdoor activities and try her best to delay the deterioration of her eyesight.
The TYR talked to Eve, a mother who lives in Sha Tin, who is also worried about her 8-year-old daughter's eyesight.
She said that it was difficult to ensure the safety of outdoor activities during the pandemic, but children may easily lose their interest in indoor activities.
"I have enrolled her in a dancing class in Tsim Sha Tsui and I go there with her every week. This gives her regular exercise and it is safer to attend classes indoors. Although it is different from outdoor activities, there is no better way at present," said Eve.
One of the researchers involved in the study, Professor Calvin C.P. Pang, S.H. Ho Research Professor of Visual Sciences, said effective prevention of myopia was important.
"Although wearing glasses or having laser refractive surgery can help improve vision, it cannot prevent the problem of eye elongation or reduce the risk of complications,” he said.
Dr. Jason Yam Cheuk-sing, who is the study’s principal investigator and an Associate Professor of the Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences, said schoolchildren should try to prevent developing short-sightedness by spending two hours a day or 14 hours a week exposed to an outdoor environment.
They should also try to reduce their increasing reliance on electronic products, he said.
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