Recently (2021), researchers from Plano led a group of prominent clinician-scientists and key opinion leaders from Singapore, Australia, the United Kingdom, and China to investigate the relationship between digital device screen time and myopia in children. They published their findings in The Lancet Digital Health, one of the world’s leading peer-reviewed medical journals.
The Plano-led study demonstrated a positive relationship between excessive digital screen time and childhood myopia and provided global evidence showing that high levels of screen time increase the risk of developing and worsening myopia.
After collating and evaluating all available research (a total of 3,325 scientific articles) on screen time and myopia, the authors of the study included 33 articles from 13 different countries globally to be included in the comprehensive systematic review. Digital screen exposure, such as prolonged periods of screen time and an earlier age of initial screen exposure in children, was considerably linked to a greater risk of developing and worsening myopia, as well as a greater elongation of the eye.
11 of the 33 studies in the systematic review were included in the meta-analysis, which found that prolonged mobile device (phones and tablets) screen time was linked to an almost 30% greater likelihood of developing myopia. Additionally, the risk of developing myopia rose to almost 80% when computer screen time was also factored into the meta-analysis.
Dr Joshua Foreman from the University of Melbourne, the lead author of this study, anticipates that the publication of these findings would spur more research on the impact of digital screens on our eye health in the context of the current COVID-19 pandemic. Dr Foreman stated, “It has long been accepted that too much time on near-vision tasks and a lack of outdoor time during childhood are a major driving force behind the worsening global myopia crisis. Mobile devices are a relatively new addition to our lives, and our research has emphasized the emerging evidence implicating these devices as a key myopia risk factor. Lockdowns around the world have forced more children than ever before indoors and in front of digital screens, and studies are already showing convincingly that this is causing an uptick in what was previously described by our group as a new phenomenon referred to as digital myopia, which unfortunately will put millions at risk of sight-threatening complications later in life.”
Similarly, Associate Professor Mohamed Dirani, the founding Managing Director of the Singapore-based health tech startup Plano and senior author of the study, agrees. Associate Professor Dirani added, “Myopia is a worsening global issue and this collaboration with top experts from around the world has highlighted the pressing need to act as a global community to implement strategies at all levels to reduce the burden of myopia. Through education and awareness, innovative technological solutions that help parents to control their children’s screen time, and ensuring that children undergo regular and timely eye exams, we can intervene early to prevent myopia. The release of this study is timely with Plano’s introduction into China, where the government has just introduced strong regulations to curb screen time among children to combat the myopia crisis.”
Indeed, Plano aims to further develop and implement educational and technological interventions to address the global myopia epidemic and to push for policy change around the world. Hopefully, governments and eye care providers worldwide can adopt measures to help children cut down on their screen time and reduce their risk of myopia.