A study in 2009 compared similar data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) for both the time periods of 1971-72 and 1999-2004, as it relates to the prevalence of myopia (near-sightedness, or distance blur) in this country. The methods of data gathering were slightly different in the two time frames, but the 1999-2004 data was statistically adjusted to match the earlier period. Both periods involved participants aged 12 to 54 years old.

The results were stunning: over 30 years the prevalence of myopia in the United States increased 66.4%. The trend was consistently higher among both race (particularly African Americans) and sex (a bit higher prevalence in females versus males). As Vitale et al noted, “although myopia can be treated relatively easily with corrective lenses, it engenders substantial expenditures on a population basis owing to its high prevalence. If 25% of those aged 12 to 54 years had myopia, the associated annual cost would be more than $2 billion; an increase in prevalence to 37% would increase the cost to more than $3 billion. The question of whether myopia prevalence is increasing is therefore important to health planners and policy makers.”

Myopia develops when the person’s eye becomes longer than the normal size. Many studies have looked at myopia control, and into the possibility of controlling some environmental factors to slow its progression. Some studies have indicated that individuals who spend more time in natural daylight have a smaller chance of developing myopia; others have shown that children who spend too much time indoors or with near tasks (like computers and tablets) are most likely to develop it. According to research, 25 percent of kids aged 14-19 are not likely to develop the disorder because they had enough exposure to sunlight. The current bottom-line general consensus remains: the odds of developing myopia depend upon BOTH genetic and environmental factors.

Long story short, there is plenty of evidence to back you up when you tell the kiddos to put down the Xbox or iPhone and go outside and play. Our dermatology friends would want us to add “don’t forget the sunscreen!”

Sources: 1. Tee, Mara. Getting enough sunlight may improve eye’s health. Counselheal.com. Jan. 20 2017. 2. Vitale, Susan et al. Increased prevalence of myopia in the United States between 1971-72 and 1999-2004. Archives of Ophthalmology 2009.