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Home learning and lockdown linked to eye problems in children

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A new study from China adds weight to a growing body of research that links short sightedness in children to quarantines and lockdowns.

Associated Press medical writer Lindsey Tanner reports that researchers from Sun Yat-Sen University in Guangzhou compared data from eye exams given a year apart to around 2,000 children starting in Chinese second grade (children of 6 or 7). Half the children were tested before the pandemic in late 2018 and then a year later. The others were tested in late 2019 and then in late 2020 after several months of home learning and lockdown.

While the first tests showed similar levels of myopia in both groups – about 7 per cent – it went up more in the groups retested late last year. By third grade about 20 per cent of those children were short sighted compared to 13 per cent of a group tested before the pandemic.

Eye specialists believe the concerning trend may be happening worldwide.

The study lacked information on how much time kids in both groups spent online or doing other work that might strain the eyes but a journal editorial said the results and those from earlier studies “should prompt parents, schools and governmental agencies to recognize the potential value of providing children with outdoor activity time and monitoring how much time is spent on near work.’’

Noreen Shaikh, a myopia specialist at Lurie Children’s Hospital in Chicago, called the Chinese research solid and said Lurie researchers are investigating any changes in nearsightedness among U.S. children during the pandemic.

“Anecdotally, there definitely seems to be an increase — particularly in younger children,” Shaikh said.

Myopia affects about 30% of the world’s population and evidence shows it has been steadily increasing over the past 20 years.

Photo – EPA-EFE/ROMAN PILIPEY

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