Are more people near-sighted these days? You can’t judge simply on the numbers of people wearing eyeglasses, since many people now wear contact lenses for vision correction, and others (the Baby Boomers especially) carry them for occasional use because older eyes usually have presbyopia-trouble focusing on small print or other matters near at hand.
There is good evidence, however, that in the US more people now than in past decades have nearsightedness, also known as myopia. In this condition, near vision is more acute than long-distance vision (JAMA Ophthalmology, Dec. 14, 2009). What could account for this? One reader has an interesting hypothesis:
Q. I used to work for an eye doctor and when I would give eye tests to some of the patients I noticed that the people who were farmers, ranchers and hunters had better and sharper vision than most other people. I saw this all the time. It does seem like if you don’t use your long-distance vision, you lose it!
A. Thank you for sharing your fascinating observation. A recent study seems to confirm that outdoor activities have an impact on vision (JAMA, Sept. 15, 2015).
Long-Distance Vision Study in China:
Chinese researchers enrolled 1,900 first graders from a dozen primary schools. Half the schools stuck with their traditional schedules, while the other half extended the amount of time the children were outdoors by 40 minutes daily. The children who had more outdoor activities reduced their likelihood of developing myopia (near-sightedness) by 23 percent.
The Benefits of Recess:
A Swedish study has shown that more physical activity may have the added bonus of enhancing concentration on school work and improving academic achievement (Journal of School Health, Oct., 2015). Although some parents worldwide may worry that more play time outside will cut into academic learning, a review of the research shows that increasing physical activity improves academic performance, or at least does not detract from it (Preventive Medicine, June, 2011).