According to research recently published on JAMA Ophthalmology, there is a correlation between the rise of myopia in children and the amount of time spent at home in front of screens during the lockdown caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. Children between six and nine years of age are the most vulnerable to environmental changes.
The World Health Organization estimates that half of the world’s population could be shortsighted by 2050. However, myopia could spread more rapidly as a consequence of the Covid-19 pandemic and the social restrictions imposed to contain contagion. According to a study published on JAMA Ophthalmology, and carried out on 123,535 children from ten primary schools in Feicheng, China, the development of myopia occurred at a faster rate in the past year.
Children aged from six to 13 years were monitored between 2015 and 2020, at the beginning of every school year.
The study’s findings show a substantial myopic shift (-0.3 dioptres) after home confinement, with a 1.4 to 3-fold worsening in 2020 compared to the previous five years as a whole. The increase was 21.5% in 6-year-olds, compared to 5.7% observed in previous years, and 26.2% and 37.2% in 7- and 8-year-olds respectively, who had previously recorded a worsening of 16.2% and 27.7%.
Younger children are therefore more vulnerable to environmental changes and more prone to developing short-sightedness.
The incidence of myopia in subjects between nine and 13 years of age is still to be assessed. Even though an increase has also been recorded in this age group, further research is needed to understand the developing trends of myopia during prolonged lockdown periods.
Indoor activities have increased and so has the time spent in front of screens, due to distance learning.
The time of exposure to technological devices for the population enrolled in the China study varies on average from one to three hours a day, not including time spent doing homework, and with time spent outdoors often reduced to zero.
It is well known that reduced outdoor activities and a diminished exposure to sunlight can worsen short-sightedness and, in many cases, even cause it.
To overcome this risk, parents need to limit the time children spend in front of screens and increase outdoor activities, whilst respecting social distancing. Further research is
needed to evaluate the possibility of confirming the findings of the present study, however a strong correlation between indoor life, the use of digital devices and increased shortsightedness now seems to be recognised by international literature.