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Playing outdoors prevents children becoming short-sighted

  • Near-sighted children had lower levels of vitamin D and a higher BMI
  • Rise in problem blamed on youngsters spending less time in natural light
  • Time spent looking at screens also said to disrupt normal eye development
  • Experts in Rotterdam recommend children play outside for 15 hours a week
  • Work close to the face should be restricted to a maximum of 45 minutes at a time

Claudia Tanner For Mailonline



Children who spend less time outdoors and do not play much sport are more likely to be near-sighted, new research suggests.

They also have lower levels of vitamin D and a higher body mass index, the large study found.

It’s more evidence that points the finger at lifestyle changes for the alarming rise in short-sightedness.

Experts have previously said half the world’s population will suffer from this in 30 years – with youngsters spending less time in natural light and more time looking at screens blamed.

To help prevent it, the new study recommends children should play outside for 15 hours a week.

Furthermore, the amount of ‘work’ close up to the face should be restricted to no longer than 45 continuous minutes.

Researchers say children spending less time outdoors is the underlying source of the problem

Researchers say children spending less time outdoors is the underlying source of the problem

Researchers say children spending less time outdoors is the underlying source of the problem

Study author Dr Caroline Klaver of Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam told Reuters: ‘Lifestyle in early youth is very much associated with onset of myopia [short-sightedness].

‘Not being outside, and performing lots of near work will increase risk a lot.’

Myopia usually occurs when the eyes grow slightly too long, which means they’re unable to produce a clear image of objects in the distance.

It’s thought to currently affect up to one in three people in the UK.

It has not always been clear exactly why this happens, but it’s thought to be the result of a combination of genetic and environmental factors disrupting the normal development of the eye.

Short-sightedness can range from mild, where treatment may not be required, to severe, where a person’s vision is significantly affected.

The condition usually starts around puberty and gets gradually worse until the eye is fully grown, but it can also develop in very young children.


Half the world’s population will be short-sighted in 30 years, with a fifth at significant increased risk of blindness as a result, a study has found.

The condition, which means people struggle to see distant objects clearly, is set to become a leading cause of permanent blindness worldwide, researchers warn.

This is because severe forms of the condition raise the risk of eye problems which lead to permanent loss of vision. 

Researchers warned the number of people suffering vision loss as a result of severe short-sightedness will increase seven-fold from 2000 to 2050. 

Experts blame lifestyle changes for the alarming rise, such as children spending less time outdoors in natural light and more time reading books or looking at screens.

They advise parents to have children’s eyes checked regularly, send them outdoors to play and limit the time they spend reading and using electronic devices.

Key findings  

The new study looked at 5,711 urban children in Rotterdam who have been participating since birth, along with their mothers, in a long-term study.

At age six, the children had a full medical examination and 2.4 percent were found to have nearsightedness.

The researchers used statistical techniques to analyze a wide variety of factors – including social and economic aspects, ethnicity, lifestyle, parents’ education levels, children’s’ activities. 

Factors like being highly educated and of non-European heritage have traditionally been linked to nearsightedness.

However, the findings suggests that how young children spend their time is likely to be the underlying source of the problem, the team wrote in the British Journal of Ophthalmology. 

What the experts say 

Dr Jeremy Guggenheim, an optometry professor at Cardiff University, who was not involved in the research, told Reuters differences in ethnic groups could be due to differences in lifestyle. 

‘The new study and other recent work suggests that this preventative effect of time outdoors is beneficial even at very young ages, e.g. three to six years old,’ he said. 

‘Too much close work, such as reading and using hand-held devices, may also be a risk – although the jury is still out on this question.’ 

The authors note that the study was limited by the low number of children with myopia and the lack of information about parents’ nearsightedness – a well-known risk factor for the condition.  

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