Back to school season

As September brings an end to the summer holidays, OT  looks at the all-important messaging around eye health for families

Sept 1 blog
Getty/Tanja Ivanova

Clothes carefully ironed. New shoes waiting at the front door. A bag stuffed with new pens. September has arrived, bringing with it an end to the halcyon days of summer (for the children at least) and the return of ‘back-to-school.’

Ahead of the bank holiday on Monday this week, the Global Myopia Awareness Coalition (GMAC) launched a campaign to inspire families to reduce screen use. 

The Screen Staycation Guide encouraged parents to ensure children spent time outside and limit screen time, explaining that an extra 76 minutes outdoors each day can reduce the risk of myopia by half.

A study of 1500 parents commissioned by GMAC revealed around a third of children were spending upwards of five hours a day on screens during the school holidays.

The research also revealed that 31% of parents surveyed have never had their children’s eyes tested, while four in 10 parents did not know the signs or symptoms of myopia.

This insight comes hot on the heels of updated guidance from the College of Optometrists on the management of myopia. The publication covers the steps optometrists should take when introducing myopia management, and the information that needs to be conveyed to patients and parents.

As families now settle back into routines shaped by school hours, it seems an opportune time to share that all important messaging around healthy visual lifestyles and regular eye examinations.

As part of a new OT series, we had the chance to hear about one student’s time at Villa Vision, an initiative that aims to raise awareness of the importance of eye health amongst children through educational workshops and vision and colour vision screening at schools around Birmingham.

Sharing his reflection about the experience, Aston University graduate and pre-reg optometrist, Zayn, told OT: “I was able to see first-hand the direct impact the organisation was having on the lives of young children.”

“What surprised me the most was the sheer number of children that had never had an eye test before,” he said, adding that the experience highlighted to him the need to emphasise the importance of having regular visits to an optometrist.

Earlier this year, the collaboration between the Aston Villa Foundation, Aston University and Essilor Vision for Life revealed the project had engaged with more than 2200 children in two years. 

Good eye health impacts everything. In August, the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness (IAPB) launched a global campaign to highlight the importance of eye health on education, economic productivity and safety, and calling on institutions and governments around the world to do more to support accessible and affordable eye care.

Speaking on the launch, Caroline Casey, IAPB president, said: “We need governments around the world to unlock funds, prioritise eye care and address regulatory barriers that are stunting access to affordable lenses.

“We need government and businesses to focus on our children, the elderly, those on the lowest incomes – to ensure that their safety, quality of life, access to education and ability to work is no longer held back by sight issues.”

While September heralds the return of school, it also leads us into the run-up for National Eye Health Week (19 – 25 September).

Each day of the awareness week will have a different theme, with children’s eye health, including myopia, on the agenda.

Speaking to OT, David Cartwright, chair of Eye Health UK, the charity behind the awareness week, said: “I’d urge everyone to get involved, add their voice to the conversation, and help to spread the word on the simple things we can all do to keep our eyes and vision healthy.”

This might be an ideal time to start thinking about the messages you would like to share with families over the month, or as part of the awareness week.

If you haven’t already, why not start by watching OT’s video: First steps in myopia management, which follows the beginning of a treatment journey for two children, Lily and Reuben?