A major global study linking the use of digital smart devices (smartphones and tablets) with myopia in children was released recently by an international collaboration led by researchers in Singapore.
The study – a comprehensive systematic review and meta-analysis – also included world experts in eye health and epidemiology from Australia, the UK, and China, and was published in The Lancet Digital Health, one of the world’s leading peer-reviewed medical journals. The authors used a gold-standard approach to collect all the research ever published on the link between smart device screen exposure and myopia. After analyzing and statistically combining the available studies, they revealed the most compelling evidence to date implicating digital devices, particularly screen time, as a risk factor for myopia in children.
The authors of the study reviewed over 3,000 published scientific papers using strict inclusion criteria and found thirty-three articles from fourteen countries across Asia and Europe that investigated a link between digital devices and myopia to include in the analysis. They discovered that the majority of these studies reported that exposure to digital screens (including longer periods of screen time and earlier age of first screen exposure in children) was significantly associated with a higher risk of myopia, an increase in the severity of myopia and greater elongation of the eye which is the major anatomical change that results in the onset of myopia. When combined through statistical modelling, the findings from all the available studies showed that, overall, high levels of smart device screen time were associated with almost a 30% higher risk of myopia, and when excessive computer screen time was added, this increased to almost 80%.
The lead author of the study, Dr Joshua Foreman from the University of Melbourne hopes that the publication of these findings in one of the world’s leading medical journals will be a call-to-action for more research into the effects of digital screens on the health of our eyes. “It has long been accepted that too much time on near-vision tasks and a lack of outdoor time during childhood are a major driving force behind the worsening global myopia crisis. Mobile devices are a relatively new addition to our lives, and our research has emphasized the emerging evidence implicating these devices as a key myopia risk factor.”
Dr Foreman is particularly concerned about the implications of these findings in the context of the current COVID-19 pandemic, saying, “Lockdowns around the world have forced more children than ever before indoors and onto screens, and studies are already showing convincingly that this is causing an uptick in what was previously described by our group as a new phenomenon referred to as digital myopia, which unfortunately will put millions at risk of sight-threatening complications later in life.”
Associate Professor Mohamed Dirani, who is the founding Managing Director of the Singapore-based eye health tech startup, Plano, and senior author on the study, agrees, saying, “Myopia is a worsening global issue and this collaboration with top experts from around the world has highlighted the pressing need to act as a global community to implement strategies at all levels to reduce the burden of myopia. Through education and awareness, innovative solutions that help parents to control their children’s screen time, and ensuring that children undergo regular and timely eye exams, we can intervene early to prevent myopia.”
Assoc Professor Dirani believes that government policy plays a key role. He said, “The release of this study is timely with Plano’s introduction into China, where the government has just introduced strong regulations to curb screen time among children to combat the myopia crisis.”
Plano plans to continue its collaborative work to develop and implement educational and technological interventions to tackle the global myopia epidemic and to advocate for policy change around the world to ensure that governments and eye care providers alike implement measures to help children to reduce their screen time and reduce their risk of myopia.
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