Children once spent most of their time playing outdoors, building dens, and cycling around.
Now they are more likely to stay inside.
And according to new research, that shift in culture is damaging youngsters’ eyes – not the screen time, but rather the lack of sunlight.
Scientists at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine have found more exposure to ultraviolet B drastically reduces the risk of developing myopia (also known as short-sightedness).
Crucially, they found it is most important to soak up the sun during childhood, for the best chance of side-stepping shortsightedness in adulthood.
Scientists at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine have found more exposure to ultraviolet B drastically reduces the risk of developing myopia, or short-sightedness
Myopia is a complex trait influenced by numerous environmental and genetic factors and is becoming more common worldwide.
This has major implications, both visually and financially, for the global burden from this potentially sight-threatening condition.
Following on from previous research, a team led by Dr Astrid E. Fletcher of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine sought to examine the connection between UBV and myopia.
The study included a random sample of participants 65 years and older from 6 study centers from the European Eye Study.
Of 4,187 participants, 4,166 attended an eye examination including refraction, gave a blood sample, and were interviewed by trained fieldworkers using a structured questionnaire.
After exclusion for various factors, the final study group included 371 participants with myopia and 2,797 without.
The researchers found that an increase in UVB exposure at age 14 to 19 years and 20 to 39 years was associated with reduced odds of myopia.
They also tested how supplements – such as vitamin D serums – could reduce risk, but they found no association.
‘The association between UVB, education, and myopia remained even after respective adjustment. This suggests that the high rate of myopia associated with educational attainment is not solely mediated by lack of time outdoors,’ the authors write.
‘As the protective effect of time spent outdoors is increasingly used in clinical interventions, a greater understanding of the mechanisms and life stages at which benefit is conferred is warranted.’