Increased prevalence of vision problems in school children during COVID-19 lockdown

Myopia is a common vision condition, also known as nearsightedness, of which limited time spent outdoors and screen time are major risk factors. A prospective study led by researchers at Tianjin Medical University found that the prevalence of myopia increased 1.4 to 3 times in Chinese children aged 6-8 years during COVID-19 quarantine, compared with the previous 5 years.

The cross-sectional study compared school-based photoscreenings of 123,535 children from 2015-2019 to 2020 after schools reopened. During the 5-month school closure period from January 2020, online learning was offered for 1 hour a day for students in grades 1-2 and for 2.5 hours for those in grades 3-6.

Myopia was 3 times higher for children aged 6 years old, 2 times higher in those aged 7 years, and 1.4 times higher in those aged 8 years. Although older children (9-13 years) were offered online courses for a longer time each day, the prevalence of myopia was less pronounced.

Why it matters: The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted health in many ways through quarantine measures and social distancing rules. The study findings suggest the need for careful planning of indoor activities for young children, who may be more sensitive to environmental changes. Further implications include shaping guidelines on eye health and early intervention to prevent widespread myopia, particularly during quarantine confinement.

Source: JAMA Opthalmology