Children who are nearsighted use twice as much smartphone data each day as their non-nearsighted peers, a recent study found.
Does digital connectivity from such a young age exacerbate the risk of children becoming more nearsighted? A recently published study in the journal Clinical and Experimental Optometry, found that the increase in nearsightedness was associated with increased smartphone data usage. Children who were more nearsighted tended to spend more time on digital devices. The findings raise concerns over the next generation of Americans-iGen or Gen Z-growing up with a preponderance of digital devices.
"Based on the results from both studies, the risk for myopia development and progression may be higher in this pandemic situation."
those that were born after 1996 are known as Gen Z and have no memory of a world before smartphones. In fact, 95% of american teems own or have access to a smartphone and nearly half say they're online on a near-constant basis.
As digital device use has skyrocketed in recent years, so, too, has myopia prevalence and age of onset. In just four decades, U.S. myopia prevalence has gone from 25% of Americans to about 42%.
Smartphone usage associated with myopia
Students spent an average of four hours of time on the phone each day, mostly spent using social media apps (Snapchat, Instagram and Facebook). Researchers found that myopes spent longer on their phones than non-myopes but also were more likely to believe screen use could affect their eyes.
"The lifestyle habits of children and teenagers today have undeniably changed with advancements in technology and while the prevalence of myopia has been increasing for decades, the increased level of near visual stimulation from smartphones may pose an additional independent risk for myopia," the authors note.
"Smartphones differ from traditional reading in various aspects such as wave-length, distance from the eye, size, contrast, resolution, temporal properties and spectral composition, all of which merit investigation. Aside from this, children and adolescents now spend more (time) than ever using a smartphone that demands proximal attention, which may compete with other more protective activities such as time outdoors."
Other studies have found an association between myopia and smartphone use as well. This was different, however, when comparing the same data to television viewing or after-school study.
Yi Pang, MD, OD, PhD., associate dean for research at Illinois College of Optometry, says there is a trend that more children are spending more time on digital devices, and research has shown that longer time on near work and/or shorter working distance can increase myopia progression. This should be a red flag as schoolchildren only recently concluded months of distance learning on handheld devices or computerizes due to the pandemic lock down.
"With the COVID-19 pandemic, the time on electronic devices dramatically increased in children because of remote learning and fewer opportunities for kids to do other activities," Dr. Pang says. "Based on the results from both studies, the risk for myopia development and progression may be higher in this pandemic situation." However, Dr. Pang notes, both studies only found an association with myopia and not a causation, which should be grounds for future studies. Dr. Pang adds: "Eye care practitioners should be aware of this issue and be ready to address parents' and patients' concerns."
For more information on how we can help your child from becoming nearsighted, or becoming increasingly more nearsighted, please call our office at 1-732-679-2020, Family Eye Care in Old Bridge, NJ