There is an epidemic of shortsightedness (myopia) which is increasing. 50% of adolescents in the UK are myopic and 97% of South Koreans, and the numbers are increasing! There are probably 200 million myopic people in the world today and in 2020 there will be about 900 million.
Why? The answer is complex, but the more time children spend outdoors, the less likely they are to develop myopia. Outdoor light exposure & less time watching TV, looking at computers, mobile phones and reading may be protective against myopia. Only 12% of Australian adolescents are myopic. But our genes are also important and we pass myopia on to our children.
How can this epidemic be stopped? In South East Asia (especially China, South Korea & Singapore) this has become a pressing issue because there are increased risks of premature cataracts, glaucoma, retinal detachment and macular degeneration with myopia. Ian Flitcroft for Mater Hospital in Dublin said "three diopters of myopia is worse for your eyes than 20 cigarettes a day is for your heart." Hundreds of BILLIONS of dollars are spent every year correcting myopia optically (In the USA it is costing about $70 billion a year). Most of the 50 million people who have had laser eye treatment over the last 20 years were myopic, but treating the condition with lasers isn't the solution, we need to be able to prevent the condition.
How can this epidemic be stopped? Eight years ago Singapore initiated a program of making outdoor activities an essential part of children's days and the rates of myopia have stabilised unlike the trends in neighbouring countries and internationally. But there is no simple solution to this multifactorial problem. Hopefully innovations will result in a preventable solution and in so doing reduce the financial and health burdens of this epidemic. Read more in the Ophthalmologist.