Children's screen use for school work hit the headlines again this week due to the link between screen use and increasing vision loss. Eye experts have advised that the government needs to take action now, before it's too late.
Eye specialist Dr Antony Bedggood is seeing more children than ever before with myopia and he says it's a real concern. Young eyes are the most at risk of developing a severe form of myopia, which can lead to blindness as adults. "People are going to lose sight because we didn't deal with the problem now," he told Newshub. "So we need to deal with that problem or else we will be dealing with it 20 years down the track."
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The prevalence of myopia, or short-sightedness, is increasing in young people at an alarming rate. If this trend continues, by 2050, half of the worlds population is expected to be myopic, with one billion blind (1,2,3,4). While near-work (including reading as well as screen use) has long been thought to be a risk factor for myopia, research is not yet conclusive. However, Dr Bedggood notes that prolonged periods of time spent inside playing on devices does damage eye health and children's health overall.
Additional concerns about the impact of high screen use on vision include the potential for blue light emitted from devices to cause retinal damage, which has been shown to occur in lab studies (5,6,7,8). Children and teenagers have less ability to filter the harmful effects of blue light, due to their stage of eye development. Blue light from screens has also been shown to impact on the quality of our sleep, (9).
Dry eye disease has been reportedly occurring in younger age groups. "Dry eye is traditionally considered an old person's disease, but we are increasingly seeing it surface in children," says Professor James Wolffsohn of Aston University. "This is likely because of prolonged screen use, which makes us blink less and speeds up the rate our tears evaporate. We need to do more to understand the health implications of children glued to smartphones, tablets and game consoles for hours at a time..'.
While research shows risks, it is not yet conclusive and further studies are needed to better understand the impacts of screen use on these conditions.
These issues, among others, are the reason that legislation and guidelines to protect students from the risks of screen use in schools have been passed in Maryland. The guidelines were passed unanimously, and they are expected to be picked up by other US states. Further information on this legislation and strategies to reduce risks associated with high screen use will be in our next blog post.