Researchers in China have uncovered a surprisingly simple way to prevent myopia (nearsightedness). It’s far safer than surgery. It’s far cheaper than even eyeglasses. In fact, it’s free. And you won’t believe why the treatment’s not mandatory for all schoolchildren in the United States. I’ll tell you all about the new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in a moment. But first, let’s back up…
Myopia or near-sightedness means you can focus on objects close up, but you can’t clearly see objects in the distance. Overall, about 30 percent of all Americans — and as many as half of all children today — have myopia. The condition is even more common in China and East Asia. It usually first appears during the early years of schooling in children. But the eyeball continues to grow until about age 20 years, so the condition can have its onset any time before then.
Eye strain from reading, looking at TV and computer screens, and using cellphones makes the condition worse. Myopia can also develop later in life from severe eye strain or from medical conditions such as diabetes.
Most people with this condition simply resign themselves to wearing eyeglasses or contact lenses for the rest of their lives. Some people do opt for laser surgery. But few can afford it. (As you may recall, I recently shared a failed government prediction from 20 years ago that laser surgery would eliminate myopia!)
There is also a non-surgical option called corneal refractive therapy. The patient wears special contact lenses that slowly reshape the surface of the eye to help focus the light entering the eye from a distance.
But there is a much simpler way to deal with myopia.
Free, simple solution completely prevents common eyesight problems in children
It turns out — simple sunlight exposure helps prevent this common problem.
In the new study on myopia, researchers in China observed 1,900 first graders over three years. Half the students spent an extra 40 minutes during the school day doing outside activities. The researchers also encouraged the parents to give the children extra time outside in the evenings and weekends. The other half of the students didn’t receive the extra outdoor time. And the researchers didn’t encourage these parents to give their children more outside play time.
After three years, the students who spent more time outdoors each day had a 23 percent lower rate of developing myopia than the other students.
This new research came from Sun Yat Sen University of Guangzhou. Last month, I reported on research from the same Chinese university showing the benefits of carotenoids for preventing breast cancer.
Once again, China leads the pack
Again, I find it interesting they can accomplish this kind of important, observational research in China. But we can’t seem to get something similar going in the U.S. to really help school children.
In fact, 10 years ago, I worked with the then-new Governor of Maryland, Martin O’Malley (now known — or perhaps not known — as a former Democratic candidate for President) on a health project with schoolchildren.
Governor O’Malley wanted to improve the nutrition and performance in school children in Baltimore City and throughout Maryland. He was really excited about some of our research showing how significantly nutrition can impact school performance. My colleagues and I found providing individualized nutritional supplements to school children could benefit students’ performance on academic testing.
By contrast, some charitable groups dump random, unused, surplus supplement supplies on schools to the great admiration and adulation of the mass market supplement industry. But we knew that sort of “one size fits all” approach wouldn’t work.
Instead, the key is to conduct a basic pencil-and-paper evaluation of each student’s nutritional needs using a simple questionnaire. Once complete, the questionnaire gave us a good overall picture of each student’s metabolic and nutritional make-up. So we could also make an individualized supplement plan.
We figured the schools could conduct the pencil-and-paper questionnaires. We would provide all the supplements.
The project was all set to launch in Baltimore City schools. We also planned to conduct the study at a sample suburban school in Fallston, Maryland. And we even had university student interns to work on the project from Georgetown University Medical School (where I serve as an Adjunct Professor).
We got the green light from Governor O’Malley, the local school administrators, and even the school nurses.
But then suddenly, they told us to stand down.
They pulled the plug on kids’ health with no explanation
It turns out the public school teachers themselves didn’t like the idea — for whatever reason.
Unlike us, they didn’t have to give any reason. But I suspect the teachers didn’t like the idea because it involved them having to do a little extra work.
So we found out who is really in charge of the public schools — not the students, parents, nurses, taxpayers, or even the Governor of that state! And we learned just how seriously they really take all the supposed concerns about school nutrition.
But unlike Joshua, they can’t stop the sun.
Thankfully, science won in China.
Clearly, kids need to spend more time outside in the sun. It will help prevent myopia. And all the extra vitamin D from the sun exposure will boost physical and mental health. Not to mention the mental, physical and spiritual benefits of just being outdoors.
So make sure your children and grandchildren spend plenty of time away from the television, computer, and cellphone screens — and spend more time in the great outdoors.
- “Effect of Time Spent Outdoors at School on the Development of Myopia Among Children in China,” Journal of the American Medical Association 2015;314(11):1142-1148: