With an increasingly competitive education system, children and students are being pushed harder to achieve the best results to lock in their futures and that of their families. Furthermore they are being furnished with access to more television, computer and mobile phone time to reward their study behaviour. Common beliefs have held that this is contributing to a higher rate of myopia or short-sightedness leading to many more children requiring glasses, contact lenses or corrective surgery. Yet recent studies have shown that the cause is neither the extra study time which requires greater concentration or longer periods of screen time but a decrease in time being spent outdoors.
The argument might seem contradictory but in East Asia it is starting to become common sense. 80-90% of secondary school graduates in the region are estimated to be myopic. This is only expected to increase over time as children are being pushed to study harder from a younger age to ensure long term academic success. Nonetheless Professor Kathryn Rose, head of orthoptics at the University of Technology Sydney, explains that healthy eye development occurs when children spend time outdoors. She says that “when children spend time outdoors they are getting enough release of retinal dopamine to actually regulate the growth of their eye”. The effects of this are being shown in various studies in the region. In China, students spending 40 minutes everyday outdoors has reduced rates of myopia by 23% with other countries also implementing similar programs. Though education remains important, it should not compromise a child’s physical health in the process. Being outside regularly can help reduce stress, allow children to learn about nature and in this case, to grow and develop as healthy human beings.