With glasses, contacts, and LASIK surgery, most of us nearsightedness folks don’t have to worry about squinting at the blackboard anymore. But the sheer prevalence of nearsightedness, or myopia, among Asian schoolchildren (in Singapore, China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Japan, and Korea) is stunning: 80 to 90% according to a recent review in the journal Lancet. In comparison, that number is just 20 to 30% in the UK. Myopia has also been on the rise in both Asia and Europe over the past few years.
While there are genes linked to myopia, its rising prevalence in both continents points to environmental causes. Namely, kids are spending more time hunched over screens and books instead of playing outdoors. In myopia, light coming into the eye can no longer focus at the retina because the eyeball has become too long. A body of research in humans and animals suggest that reading at close distances and lack of bright sunlight could cause elongated eyeballs.