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HomeNew ZealandShort-sightedness 'increasing', optometrist urges less screen time for children

Short-sightedness ‘increasing’, optometrist urges less screen time for children

Primary student in a classroom.

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Photo: RNZ / Marika Khabazi

A group of eye specialists are urging parents and teachers to help children mitigate the risks of short-sightedness.

A new report from the Child Myopia Working Group suggests easy and free ways for children and adults to protect their vision and avoid blindness in later life.

One of the group’s members, Hamilton optometrist Jagrut Lallu, said more and more people were underestimating the risks and letting their vision get worse.

“It’s a global health issue, short-sightedness is increasing following Covid-19,” he said.

“The lockdowns have basically meant that we have heaps more screen time.”

Screen time, and other “near-work” activities such as reading and school work were some of the main contributors to short-sightedness, besides genetics.

New data from the report indicated that 22 percent of New Zealanders were short-sighted, “and it’s only growing,” Lallu said.

Despite how common the condition was, few understood the dangers. Lallu warned that the worse it got, the more likely people were to lose their vision entirely.

“If your short-sightedness level [prescription] is more than -3, you have a similar risk of blindness, around 3 times,” he said.

“But as the numbers go up, it’s more of an exponential curve. My prescription is -12, so my chance of losing sight is 27 times that of a normal individual.”

For that reason, Lallu said it was imperative that parents understand how to mitigate the risks. One of the simplest ways, he said, was the ’20-20-20′ rule.

“Every 20 minutes, look out the window for 20 seconds at something that’s 20 feet, or 6 metres, away,” Lallu said.

It is a rule he hoped would gain traction in classrooms, where teachers could pause classes and encourage students to exercise their eyes.

Spending time outside was also vital: “two hours a day of outdoor time”.

“And outdoor time isn’t reading an iPad outside, it’s going outside and playing.”

In an ideal world, where everyone spent more time outside, Lallu said the amount of people with short-sightedness could be cut in half.

“Before bed, try to have a rule of no devices for two hours,” he said. “That’s much more difficult for parents, because if you’re anything like our family, just before bed you might want to quickly read the news or check your emails.”

To protect his vision, Lallu said resisting the urge to check his phone was one way – and he hoped the benefits were clear to see.

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