Less screen time, more outdoor time can reduce myopia as rates rise among kids

Joanne Schnurr, CTV Ottawa

Too much screen time is having a drastic impact on our children's eyesight.  Studies show that myopia, or nearsightedness, is increasing at a dramatic rate among kids.

The fix might be as simple as putting those phones down and stepping outside.

Not only are Connor and Tyler Sutton identical twins, but they've got the identical issue with their eyes:  myopia; they're both nearsighted and need glasses or contacts to see in the distance.

“In the classroom, things were starting to get harder to see,” recalls 13-year-old Connor.

“I could barely see,” recalls his brother Tyler, “everything seemed blurry and small.”

There may be a genetic component to their nearsightedness but they know too much screen time has played a role, as it has with many their age.

“One of our classmates told us she averaged 6 hours on her phone once,” says Tyler, “That's too much.”

And now many studies are showing why.  That obsession with our screens is having an impact on our eyes, especially among kids.

Myopia or nearsightedness has increased from 6% to 28.9% for children between the ages of 6 and 13, according to a study by CNIB and the University of Waterloo’s School of Optometry and Vision Science. Almost one-third of cases go undiagnosed and uncorrected.

Dr. Trevor Graham is an optometrist with the Manotick Optometric Centre, “It's something we've seen changing for some years now,” he says.

Dr. Graham is the eye doctor caring for Tyler and Connor.

“When you think of why nearsightedness is become more prevalent,” he says, “the two big things they worry about are more screen time and more indoor time.

The two things we try to educate to prevent myopia is to limit screen time. Kids 2 to 5 years of age should have one hour (screen time) at the most.  Those 5 to18, two hours at most of screen time a day and try to spend as much time as you can outside.”

There are a couple of theories as to why being outside is good for your eyes.  Dr. Graham says one is that it provides more focal points to look that keep the distance vision in use.  The other is that light in general promotes eye health.  Clearly people need to keep UV protection in mind but Dr. Graham says in the early stages, outside light could help prevent the elongation of the eye, which causes myopia.

And preventing myopia is key to avoiding other, more serious complications down the road. Teresa Guolla is with the Vision Loss Rehab program with CNIB, one of the partners in the study.

“People with significant myopia are more at risk of developing glaucoma, cataracts, retinal detachment,” says Guolla, “all of which can lead to blindness.”

So, on this final day of March Break, put the phone down and let the fun begin. 

“Get outside and look up and look around,” says Meaghan Potter.

“It’s just an opportunity to look further away and relax your eyes,” adds Wendy Petersen, as the two begin a walk through Gatineau Park with their puppies in tow.