Optometrists warn myopia a ‘looming epidemic’ for screen-addicted children

Picture: Sky Whittle, 3, of Oxley and Archie, 4, and Harry Freund, 7, of Jindalee play at Rocks Riverside Park in Seventeen Mile Rocks. Picture: Claudia Baxter

 

AN addiction to screen time is producing a generation of shortsighted children, the country’s peak optometry body has warned.

Optometry Australia spokesman Luke Arundel said myopia was a “looming epidemic”, with young children needing glasses sooner.

He said a decade ago, myopia presentations tended to peak in children when they hit puberty, but optometrists were now reporting significant rates of the condition in children as young as five.

Contrary to popular belief, the blue light from digital devices was not to blame.

Mr Arundel said it was missing out on time outdoors in favour of screen time indoors that was damaging children’s eyes.

“A growing body of evidence now suggests that a lack of outdoor light is contributing to the development of myopia,” he said. “It has been suggested that bright outdoor light releases ­dopamine from the sensor layer at the back of the eye (the retina), and this chemical helps to regulate eye growth and slow myopia ­development.”

Australian research published last year estimated five billion people worldwide would be shortsighted by 2050. “It’s going to be this next generation coming through that are really skewing the stats and making more and more of the world shortsighted,” he said.

“Basically we need to be encouraging parents to make sure kids are spending a couple of hours outside every day.’’

Nature Play Qld program manager Hyahno Moser said children were living busy lives with fewer opportunities to be outside. “I think you have to structure in unstructured play these days,” Mr Moser said.

Jindalee brothers Harry Freund, 7, and Archie, 4, spend time playing outside every day. Their mother Tess Wagner tries to limit the amount of time they spend on digital devices.

“When I am able to get them outside into nature they are a lot better behaved, a lot more relaxed,” Ms Wagner said.

“They sleep better, they just seem a lot more content with each other and within themselves.”

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