Myopia increases in children from 5 to 7 years old due to the use of electronic devices.

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Experts say there’s a moderate risk of becoming nearsighted for children who spend more than two hours performing near-vision tasks, in addition to those employed at school.

The European University’s Vision Research Group – formed by Cristina Álvarez Peregrina, Miguel Ángel Sánchez Tena and César Villa Collar – has confirmed in Spain the increasing trend of myopia in children that has been demonstrated in other parts of the world. Specifically, according to their retrospective study “Prevalence of refractive errors in children from 5 to 7 years old in Spain”, collected by Gaceta de Optometría y Óptica Oftálmica, the prevalence rate in children increases with age – from 13% of myopia among 5 year olds to 20% in 7 year olds.

According to the World Health Organization, an estimated 19 million children worldwide suffer from visual impairment, with refractive errors being the main cause in 63 per cent of cases. Myopia is one of the most common refractive errors. In fact, it has become a global public health problem, with steadily increasing prevalence rates indicating that 50% of the population will be short-sighted by 2050.

Although there are several studies on the prevalence of myopia at a global and European level, there are currently no data on its prevalence in children in Spain. This is a key message that the Alain Afflelou Foundation has been fighting for for more than ten years through its “School Campaign for Children’s Visual Health”. The main objective of this initiative is the early detection of visual problems in children to prevent them from affecting their school development.

Thus, a study carried out by researchers at the European University is the first to be carried out in Spain on children between 5 and 7 years of age and provides data on the prevalence of myopia in this population, as well as relating it to the number of hours they use electronic devices, which is key in the opinion of the researchers, “given that knowing and correcting refractive errors at an early age is of vital importance, since unresolved vision problems have a great impact on the quality of life of children and their educational development”.

Lifestyle, key to the development of myopia

To carry out the research, the European University’s vision research group analyzed the data collected in the School Campaign for Children’s Visual Health that the Alain Afflelou Foundation carried out in September 2016. Thus, the sample consisted of 3,541 children, of whom 22.8% were five years old at the time of the review; 38.2% were six; and 39% were seven.

With regard to the types of refractive errors in the sample analysed, the researchers detected 16.8% of short-sighted and 43.9% of long-sighted people and concluded that the percentage of short-sighted people increased with age. Likewise, in relation to the lifestyles of the sample studied, the results reveal that children use devices such as tablets, mobiles, computers or consoles for an average of one hour and 20 minutes a day, to which is added the hour and 23 minutes spent watching television and the 51 minutes spent reading. These data become especially relevant if we take into account that some studies have determined that there is a moderate risk of becoming nearsighted for those children who spend more than two hours performing tasks in close vision (in addition to those employed at school).

In addition, the team from the European University has observed how 30% of children spend more than two hours a day with digital devices, a percentage that rises to 33% in the case of myopic people. As the researchers point out, “these data suggest that prolonged use of electronic devices could have some influence on the appearance of myopia”. In fact, the lifestyle of children could explain most of the increased risk of suffering from high myopia, since “the most recent studies seem to show that there is less incidence in children who spend more time outdoors”.

Finally, the experts from this university recommend incorporating the influence of digital devices on the evolution of refractive defects in future studies, as well as “monitoring prevalence rates over time to determine the increase that is occurring in Spain in order to be able to establish prevention measures”.

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