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Why Playing Outside Is Good for Kids’ Eyes

Young children who spend more time playing outside are less likely to need glasses to correct myopic vision.

Children who spend more time playing outside are less likely to become nearsighted. That’s the conclusion from a study of 5,700 Dutch youngsters who were followed from birth to age six.

What Are the Benefits of Playing Outside?

The researchers analyzed multiple factors, including household income, parental education and children’s activities. When the kids were six they got a complete medical and eye exam. At that time, 137 of them (2.4%) were diagnosed with myopia.

What Was Different about the Nearsighted Youngsters?

These children had spent more time indoors and spent less time playing sports than the kids with normal vision. In addition, myopic children had lower vitamin D levels and higher body mass index. All of these factors could correlate pretty well with spending more time inside, away from the sun, in sedentary pursuits.

The authors conclude that environmental factors, especially playing outside, have an important impact of children’s vision.

Tideman et al, British Journal of Ophthalmology, online, June 12, 2017 

Other Studies Agree That Time Outside Is Important:

This is not the first study to find that children who spend more time playing outside are less likely to become nearsighted. Primary school children who spent more time studying indoors developed longer eyes (Guo et al, PLOS One, April 27, 2017). The elongation of the eye is often associated with myopia.

A review of research found that, while time playing outside can prevent myopia, it cannot reverse the eye changes once they have occurred (Xiong et al, Acta Ophthalmologica, March 2, 2017). Japanese researchers found that violet light in the outdoor sunlight spectrum helps prevent nearsightedness (Torii et al, EBioMedicine, Feb. 2017).

Playing Outside at School:

A study in Barcelona also found that children who spent more time playing outside in green spaces were less likely to need glasses in three years (Dadvand et al, Environmental Research, Jan. 2017). One randomized controlled trial found that adding 40 minutes of recess to the primary school day reduced the number of students developing myopia over three years (He et al, JAMA, Sep. 15, 2015).

Children can also stay fit by playing outside. If they don’t have safe outdoor play spaces at home, they should be playing outside while at school.

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies..
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