A new study has revealed how more time outdoors can provide greater odds for eye health in children.
Over a three-year period, researchers discovered that by simply adding 40 minutes of outdoor activity, nearsightedness among school-aged children was significantly reduced.
Also called Myopia, people with nearsightedness have trouble seeing things at a distance.
“Although prescribing this approach with the intent of helping to prevent myopia would appear to have no risk, parents should understand that the magnitude of the effect is likely to be small and the durability is uncertain,” said Dr. Michael Repka, who wrote an editorial accompanying the study, published in the Sept. 15 issue of JAMA. Repka is professor of ophthalmology and pediatrics at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore.
Cases of nearsightedness have increased dramatically in children, namely in urban areas of East and Southeast Asia, as well as Europe and the Middle East, according to researchers.
To investigate this phenomenon, researchers followed approximately 950 children from six different schools and assigned them 40 minutes of outdoor activities every day. Their parents were also encouraged to continue the outdoor time, by spending extra hours outside after school and on weekends.
Approximately the same amount of children from other schools did not increase their daily outdoor activity or stray from their usual routine at home .
Three years later, incidence of nearsightedness was 30.4 per cent among the children who spend more time outdoors, compared to nearly 40 percent among children whose routine stayed the same.
Whist the difference was less than anticipated, the importance of the findings should not be dismissed, “However, it is clinically important because small children who develop myopia early are most likely to progress to high myopia, which increases the risk of pathological myopia,”said the study’s authors, led by Dr. Mingguang He of Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou.
“Thus, a delay in the onset of myopia in young children, who tend to have a higher rate of progression, could provide disproportionate long-term eye health benefits,”
These long term effects could be a reduction in the cases of Pathological myopia – or extreme nearsightedness, which is a rare condition leading to blindness.
The Chinese research team says that more long-term studies are needed to support these findings.
“Establishing the long-term effect of additional outdoor activities on the development and progression of myopia is particularly important because the intervention is essentially free and may have other health benefits,” Dr Repka said.
“Given the popular appeal of increased outdoor activities to improve the health of school-aged children in general,” Repka added, “the potential benefit of slowing myopia development and progression by those same activities is difficult to ignore.”