According to a study carried out by researchers at the University of Guangzhou, children who spend more time outdoors are less likely to develop myopia, or near-sightedness.
Myopia is becoming increasingly common worldwide, and currently there is no effective preventative treatment.
The researchers developed timetables for six groups of school children, giving each of them different amounts of outdoor activities.
Children in the group that spent most time outdoors were almost 10 per cent less likely to be near-sighted after a three-year period.
The study’s lead author, Mingguang He, explains the findings:
‘Our study achieved an absolute difference of 9.1 per cent in the incidence rate of myopia, representing a 23 per cent relative reduction in incident myopia after three years, which was less than the anticipated reduction.
‘However, this is clinically important because small children who develop myopia early are most likely to progress to high myopia, which increases the risk of pathological myopia. Thus a delay in the onset of myopia in young children, who tend to have a higher rate of progression, could provide disproportionate long-term eye health benefits.’
‘Further studies are needed to assess long-term follow-up of these children and the generalisability of these findings.’
This study does not clarify what it is about being outdoors that prevents myopia. It was once believed to be caused by extended periods of near-focus ‘close work’, because it affected scribes and seamstresses. In this century a lot of leisure time is spent in a similar way, and the condition is blamed on the amount of time spent squinting at mobile phone and laptop screens.