by Sir Peter Birkett | August 2021 | Education

The Growing Digital Dangers for Vision

Parents are growing increasingly concerned about the impact Lockdowns have had on their children’s physical health and eyesight in particular, since Covid-19 gripped the world in March 2020.  Since life became more insular and children have turned to screens for both learning and socialising, reported cases of failing eyesight in children have doubled, creating what some experts describe as a potential public health crisis. 

Researchers in Ireland discovered that just three hours of screen time a day increased the odds of myopia (near-sightedness) in children. In Denmark, it was found that this risk doubled in teenagers spending six hours a day on a screen. Myopia worldwide is becoming more common and it is predicted to rise.

Excessive computer use causes myopia, raising the risk of blindness later in life, and daylight is known to reduce this risk, but with regular lengthy lockdowns, our children have stayed inside their homes, away from their friends and schools and lived their lives solely through technology.

These new behaviours which have developed during the pandemic, worryingly seemed to have crystallized in children. Gaming and socialising apps have seen an increase of over 80% throughout the year prior to the pandemic with no sign of the trend reversing.

Unable to play sports or meet in parks or public spaces, children have been drawn to apps and games like TikTok and Fortnite. The increasing amount of time children are spending online is known as ‘The Covid Effect’ – a term coined by Qustodio who tracks the usage of tens of thousands of devices owned by children aged between 4 and 15 years worldwide and who have seen screen time double during the pandemic.

Desperate parents are helpless to know how to deal with the addictive nature of these platforms whose attraction has been reinforced by lockdowns, causing failing eyesight, obesity, depression and anxiety.

Many children now alternate between several devices at once; playing games, talking to friends and using remote learning to fulfil their educational needs.

The Eye Health Charity ‘Fight for Sight’ advises teaching the 20-20-20 rule to our children.  Look at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds every 20 minutes you are watching the screen. Keep digital media 18 to 24 inches away from the face and maintain regular screen breaks throughout the day.

Studies in China found that spending just 40 minutes outdoors daily reduced the risk of myopia in 6-year olds over the following three years.

If our future is being designed to incorporate more remote learning and we are spending more time socialising online, then more health and safety measures need to be put into place as this new digital world threatens to envelop us.

These days we would never drive a car without putting on our seatbelt first. Equally, we now need to ensure safety measures are put in place for our new digitized lives, especially for our children’s sakes, and encouraging time spent in daylight and in nature should be part of these new measures.