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More time outdoors could stop children developing short-sightedness

21-Jan-16
Article By: Angeline Albert, News Editor

The number of short sighted children in the UK has more than doubled over the last 50 years but more time outdoors could help, academics say.

Researchers at Ulster University have found a ‘two-fold increase’ over the last five decades in the proportion of UK children aged 10 to 16-years who are short-sighted and are now studying how more time playing outside could stop the condition developing or slow it down.

In a paper, published in the journal PLOS One, research led by Professor Kathryn Saunders found younger children are more likely than 50 years ago to be short-sighted.

It stated the findings are ‘likely to reflect the significant changes in lifestyle and environment that have occurred’ with less time spent outdoors, use of electronic devices, poor diet and a sedentary lifestyles being contributing factors to short sightedness.

The research revealed children are three times more likely to become myopic between the age of six to seven-years-old and 12–13-years-old than between 12–13 and 18–20 years in the UK population. Short-sightedness is thought to arise from interactions between genetic makeup and the environment and Professor Saunders believes an extra hour spent outdoors where children are exposed to the benefits of sunlight could protect them from becoming short sighted.

Her research is now focusing on the effects of daylight exposure on eyesight.

Professor Saunders said: “In East Asian and South Asian countries there is data that shows a link between time spent outdoors and protection against the onset of short sightedness and a slowdown in the condition's progress.

“Our UK study has run for six years and will carry on for another three. As a side-arm of our research, we are looking at Vitamin D levels in teenagers and what impact being outside can have on stopping the development of short sightedness and slowing down its progress.”

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