Pandemic taking a toll on children’s eyesight: study

Researchers at Chinese University say the pandemic has brought an increase in the number of schoolchildren developing short-sightedness, with many spending too much time in front of a screen and not enough doing outdoor activities.

The research team followed more than 700 children aged between six and eight this year and found that almost 30 percent developed myopia – almost triple the pre-pandemic rate.

They found that the children spent an average of almost seven hours each day on tablets, smartphones or watching television, compared to two and a half hours before the Covid crisis began.

The time they spent outdoors dropped to less than half an hour, from one and a half hours before the pandemic.

An associate professor of the university’s department of ophthalmology and visual sciences, Jason Yam, said a change in lifestyles is taking a toll on children’s eyesight, resulting in a “myopia boom”.

“Because of the pandemic, families tend to go outdoor less, and because of home confinement, children or families tend to spend more time on near-work [activities] and also on the screen,” Yam said.

In one extreme case, the short-sightedness of an eight-year-old girl, Nicole, progressed from 400 degrees to 525 degrees in just seven months.

“Sometimes I feel quite uncomfortable. When I stare at the screen for a long time, my eyes get watery. Sometimes I can’t open my eyes because I feel so tired and I want to rest. I don’t know what to do,” she said.

Nicole’s parents said her screen time had increased drastically during the pandemic, including four hours of online lessons each day.

The researchers recommended that schoolchildren spend at least two hours outdoors each day to reduce the risk of myopia progression.

They also urged schools to include more outdoor activities in the curriculum to better protect children’s eyesight and said children should take a break after 30 minutes of reading.