Carefully examine effect of digital devices on children’s eyesight

As children use digital devices more often, there are concerns about the impact on their eyes. It is necessary to ascertain the situation and make efforts to implement preventive measures.

The number of children with visual acuity of less than 1.0 on the Japanese acuity scale, which is equivalent to 20/20 vision, is on the rise, accounting for 35% of those in elementary school, 57% in junior high school and 68% in high school. The Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry has started the first large-scale survey on myopia and lifestyle habits among about 9,000 elementary and junior high school students nationwide.

This fiscal year, each elementary and junior high school student was given a digital device, and their use during class hours began. In recent years, many children have become familiar with smartphones at home. The ministry needs to determine the impact on their eyes and devise effective measures to deal with the situation.

It is said that myopia tends to progress in elementary and junior high school students, and the risk of eye diseases such as glaucoma and retinal detachment increases in adults.

Myopia among children is on the rise worldwide, with the World Health Organization estimating that one in two people will become myopic by 2050. An increasing number of countries and regions are taking measures to combat myopia among children — such as Singapore, whose government has compiled prevention plans.

Research has found that exposure to sunlight outdoors helps control myopia. For more than 10 years, Taiwan has been reducing the percentage of children with poor eyesight through such steps as encouraging elementary school students to spend two hours a day outdoors.

Taiwan is also reportedly devising such measures as holding outdoor science classes focusing on observation as much as possible. In Japan, too, it would be advisable to consider reviewing class plans in consideration of children’s eyes.

This fiscal year, Japan’s education ministry plans to conduct a feasibility project on digital textbooks nationwide. In addition to the educational effects, it is important to thoroughly examine the impact on children’s eyes. Thorough measures must be taken at schools, such as having children maintain proper posture and having them look far away for a fixed time.

Many ophthalmologists have said myopia has increased among elementary and junior high school students due to people refraining from going out as a result of the novel coronavirus pandemic. This may be because children came to play games and use smartphones more often at home, thereby putting greater strain on their eyes.

There are fears that more children could be infected with coronavirus variants that have been spreading mainly in the Kansai region. Children may have to stay home longer than before to avoid infection. It is important to discuss such matters at home as when and how long to use games or smartphones.

It is difficult to cure myopia, but research is progressing around the world on new treatments to contain its advance, through such means as eye drops and contact lenses.

With the advent of the digital age, myopia could become a new lifestyle-related disease. In Japan, too, efforts should be made to develop and disseminate preventive and therapeutic methods.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on April 21, 2021.