Do Children Who Spend More Time Outdoors Have A Lower Risk For Nearsightedness?

  • BY Ryan

According to the American Academy of Opthamology, there may be a connection between the amount of natural light children get and nearsightedness. Eye health studies have indicated that an inability to see from a distance, which is called myopia or nearsightedness, is increasingly becoming more common. In the United States, the number of nearsighted children has increased steadily for the last four decades. In the 1970s, 25% of American children were nearsighted, while today, the number is closer to 40%. In some Asian countries, the figure of myopic kids is as much as 80%.

Eight key research studies, done with more than 10,000 participants, found that every hour that a child spent outside each week cut his or her risk of developing nearsightedness by 2%. The researchers, which included Dr. Justin Sherwin and his team at the University of Cambridge, discovered that kids with myopia didn’t spend as much time outdoors as their more eagle-eyed counterparts. The actual activities done outside, whether the children were playing sports, walking or even just sitting, didn’t seem to affect the outcome, so it’s thought that natural light is the important factor in reducing kids’ risk of nearsightedness. A study in conducted in China with 80 myopic children aged 7-11 who spent at least 14 hours a week outdoors, found after two years that many of them were less nearsighted than they were originally. Also, a similar study in which the children spent 14 hours a week inside doing close up activities such as crafts, reading and computer games, found that this indoor time did not improve their nearsightedness. More studies are being done to test the age old myth that bookworm people who spent more time indoors are more prone to myopia, or have increased levels of nearsightedness, than those who spend more time outside.
Theories on why natural light may help prevent or reduce the severity of myopia revolve around sunlight releasing dopamine in the eyes as a response mechanism. The results of some of the studies suggest that kids’ spending more time outdoors may not prevent or decrease the condition of myopia, but rather slow the progression of nearsightedness in children. Of course, genetics is known to play a role in myopia. If both biological parents are nearsighted, the child has an increased susceptibility to becoming myopic. Optometrist, Dr. Gary Heiting, writes on his website that myopic children do tend to grow into nearsighted adults who need strong eyeglasses prescriptions. He notes that this is a concern because nearsighted people are at an increased risk for serious eye problems such as detached retina and cataracts.
We do have to consider cause and effect when trying to determine the weight of the studies on the connection between outdoor time and myopia in children. There is a need to have even more findings on this subject before we are closer to knowing if regular exposure to outdoor light can really help counter nearsightedness in kids. We’ll also need to know exactly how many hours of natural outdoor light our children will have to have to reduce the risk/effects of myopia. If spending more time outside in the natural light will help our children have a lower risk for nearsightedness as well as eye problems that could also develop as a result of the myopia, then perhaps we should plan on more outdoor time with them now anyway. Bringing back ongoing family bike rides and hikes in the park could be a good thing not only for physical fitness rewards, but also for the sake of our children’s eyes. While we’re waiting for more research to come out on the connection between outdoor time and kids’ nearsightedness, spending more time with our children outdoors shouldn’t hurt!