Want kids to see better? Send them outside
© 2015 Roy Benaroch, MD
This month in JAMA, physicians from China reported a large, randomized trial – and it turns out that, at least in China, more outdoor time means fewer kids need glasses for nearsightedness.
About half of 1900 students from 12 schools were randomized to either get an extra 40 minutes of outdoor play each school day, or continue their usual routine. They were followed for three years and then assessed for nearsightedness, or myopia.
In the control group (with no extra outdoor time), 40% of the children were myopic by the end of the study; those who got extra outdoor time reduced their risk to 30%. The risk remained about the same when parents’ eyesight was factored in. And among children who were myopic at the start of the study, their vision worsened more quickly if they didn’t get the extra outdoor time.
It’s been observed that a lot of close-up work in young children seems to contribute to myopia. About 90% of young adults in the East Asian countries of China, Taiwan, and South Korea are myopic, compared to 20-30% in the UK. Rates have risen dramatically in these Asian countries as academic pursuits have begun to dominate their early educational experiences—and perhaps the close reading work, instead of playing outdoors, is to blame.
It’s not clear whether increased outdoor play would decrease myopia in the USA—but this is just one more potential plus for outdoor activities. Now stop reading and go outside!