Myopia (short-sightedness) has become increasingly common.
4.758 billion people worldwide are likely to be affected by 2050, up from 1.950 billion in 2010.
As a result, myopia is no longer thought to be mainly caused by genetic predisposition. While genes do play a role, they do not solely explain the rising prevalence.
Instead, scientists have began exploring environmental factors and their research has found some strong connections.
A study in the British Journal of Ophthalmology has labelled summer births and daily video game usage as strong, contributing factors to myopia.
These two conditions combined with less time outdoors and higher education levels appear to be the perfect concoction for developing near sightedness.
Researchers were able to draw these conclusions after studying almost 2,000 twins born between 1994-1996 in the UK.
They studied the children’s eye development over a span of 16 years, analysing demographic, social, economic, educational and behavioural factors at critical stages of child and eye development along the way.
Parents and teachers also filled in comprehensive questionnaires, and the twins did web based assessments to provide potentially relevant information on possible factors.
They found that one in four of the children was myopic and began wearing corrective glasses at age 11.
Excessive use of video and computer games and beginning school at an earlier age (summer births) have one thing in common - they include close work.
Children are spending time scrutinising the TV screen or homework up close which has been shown to speed up eye growth and cause short-sightedness.
Hours spent playing computer games may not just be linked to close working, but also to less time outdoors-a factor that has previously been linked to heightened myopia risk.
Interestingly, fertility treatments have been credited with lowering children’s risk of developing myopia by 25-30 percent.
Researchers speculate that children born as a result of fertility treatment are often born smaller and slightly more premature and may have some level of developmental delay, which might account for shorter eye length and less myopia.
However, this is just an observational study, researchers remind us, and therefore cannot completely determine cause. But they’ve definitely found enough to prompt further in-depth studies on myopia and environmental factors.
Doctors at the University of Melbourne say that environmental factors are now thought to have a greater role than genetic ones.
They say: “The use and misuse of smart devices, particularly in our paediatric populations, must be closely monitored to address the emerging phenomenon of digital myopia.”