Every year, when my daughter’s school informs us of an upcoming health screening, I get a little anxious. No, she doesn’t have any health issue – and I’m thankful for that – but I can’t help but worry that she may fail the eyesight test, given the high rate of myopia in kids in Singapore.
While the prevalence of myopia here unsettles me, the underlying reason for my apprehension is my guilt. I suffer from high myopia (defined as -6.00 dioptre and above) and started wearing glasses when I was only in kindergarten. Since genetics play a part in the development of myopia in kids, I feel that I’m shortchanging my child by increasing her risk of contracting it.
Myopia in Kids – The Lowdown
A child with myopia, commonly known as shortsightedness, will not be able to see things that are far away clearly because the eyeball has grown too long for light to come to a focus on the retina. It is a common condition, especially in Singapore where childhood myopia rates are among the highest in the world. According to SingHealth, surveys indicate that myopia affects one in four seven-year-olds, a third of nine-year-olds, and half of 12-year-olds!
The statistics do look unfavourable, especially for hereditarily predisposed children like my daughter. But there’s hope yet.
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Genes is just one of the risk factors for shortsightedness. Frequently engaging in near work, such as reading or using handheld devices, for long stretches of time without breaks may increase the risk for myopia too. Which means we parents can still do something to try to prevent or at least delay the onset of myopia in kids.
It’s All About Instilling Good Habits
Whatever the inherent odds, teaching kids good eye care habits goes a long way in fighting against myopia.
The Straits Times mentioned a study by the Singapore Eye Research Institute that concluded that the “high childhood myopia rate in Singapore is largely attributed to frequent near-work activities done with handheld gaming devices, personal computers, mobile phones and iPads”. Based on this finding, the obvious thing to do then would be to limit our kids’ screen time.
Relying on that alone, though, would not be enough. Even without watching Youtube videos on the mobile phone, our kids still spend a good amount of time on close-range work a.k.a. homework when they reach primary school years. And what about kids who love to read? We’re not about to extinguish their passion for books by telling them to read less, are we?
The solution is to train them to practise good habits such as reading upright, holding their books 30 cm away from their eyes and placing computer screens at least 50cm away. It is also very important that kids take a break every 30 minutes by looking at distant objects to relax their eyes.
Granted, we won’t be able to track if the kids are following our instructions all the time. But we can remind them whenever we catch them bringing their books too near or not taking an eye break, in the hope that eventually good eye care becomes a habit to them.
Go Out And Play! Yay!
In contrast to sounding like a broken record reminding little ones to rest their eyes, the next way to combat myopia in kids should be music to their ears: Play! Go out and play!
According to a 2015 World Health Organisation report on myopia, studies show that when children spent more than two hours a day outdoors, “their risk of myopia was reduced, even when they had two myopic parents and continued to perform near work”.
This offers some comfort for parents with shortsightedness like me, though it is hardly possible to find two hours every day to bring the kids out in our pressure-cooker society! In between completing their homework, going for enrichment classes and practising piano, kids are barely left with time to sleep! We adults have a tight schedule too, not forgetting how tired we get from our day-to-day work!
Well, we can only try our best. Even if we can only go outdoors with the kids for half an hour every other day, or only during the weekends, that will do. The kids will appreciate the fun bonding time!
Lead A Healthy Lifestyle
“Eat your carrot! It’s good for your eyes!” Hands up those of us who have heard this from our parents when we were young!
While it is true that nutrient-rich foods such as carrots, berries, leafy greens, nuts and deep-water fish are beneficial for the eyes, they are mostly good for preventing diseases and age-related problems such as glaucoma, cataracts and macular degeneration.
Even though they are not remedies specifically for myopia, they help to build a good foundation for long-term eye health. Look for food items that contain good amounts of omega-3 fatty acids, Vitamins A, C and E, beta-carotene, lutein, zeaxanthin and zinc.
Beyond focusing on specific nutrients, it is important to lead a healthy lifestyle: eat a balanced diet, have adequate sleep to rest the eyes and spend time exercising outdoors. When the whole body is in good health, the eyes will benefit too!
Nothing That Glasses Can’t Solve
At the end of the day, we can do everything and yet the inevitable happens. The fact is no one knows exactly why one child suffers from shortsightedness while another doesn’t. What experts can agree on are just the risk factors for myopia in kids. So there’s no reason we should be beating ourselves up over it.
In any case, myopia in kids is easily corrected with a pair of spectacles.
Just last week, my daughter handed me a letter from the Health Promotion Board after her health screening. She had scored a 6/12 in her eyesight test, which requires us to get her eyes examined by a certified optometrist or optician to determine if she needs to wear glasses. Let’s see how this goes.