Short-sighted approach

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Around 200 million pairs of glasses are bought in China each year, according to China Business Information. But is the incidence of poor sight higher in China than in places like the US, Germany or Australia? The Economist reckons so and last week offered some scientific and behavioural reasons why. Almost four-fifths of 16 to 18 year-olds in China are short-sighted. And among primary school kids over 40% are short-sighted. In America and Germany the comparable figure is less than 10%. The magazine noted that a 2012 study of 15,000 children in Beijing found that poor sight was “significantly associated” with more time studying, reading or using electronic devices – along with less time spent outdoors. And it says the major factor in short-sightedness is a lack of time spent outdoors. That’s because daylight helps the retina to release a chemical that slows any increase in the eye’s axial length, which The Economist says is what most often causes myopia. Ian Morgan of Australian National University says that if a child has enough time in the open, they can study and their eyesight should not suffer. But once they start school, Chinese children only spend about an hour outside per day (Australian kids spend around three hours in the open air).

“Schoolchildren in China are often made to take a nap after lunch rather than play outside; they then go home to do far more homework than anywhere outside East Asia. The older children in China are, the more they stay indoors,” comments the magazine. However, it points out that for cultural reasons – i.e. studying hard and sacrificing outdoor time – similarly high incidences of myopia also affect Singapore and South Korea.

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