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Global Myopia Awareness Coalition highlights the importance of regular eye examinations

A survey by the GMAC found only 25% of parents in the US had taken their child to an eye care professional since the beginning of the pandemic

young girl drawing
Pexels/Andrea Piacquadio

The Global Myopia Awareness Coalition (GMAC) is highlighting the importance of regular optometrist visits, after a survey found only 25% of US parents polled have taken their child to an eye care professional since the pandemic began.

The survey of 1532 US parents with a child under 18 years old found that only 19% had taken their children to see an optometrist during the pandemic, and 7% had taken them to the ophthalmologist.

The survey found more than half (56%) of parents reported being ‘very worried’ or ‘somewhat worried’ about the changes to their children’s routine and the potential impact it could have on their eyesight.

Of those who were worried, 42% of parents said they encouraged their child to go outside and play, while another 38% encouraged their children to read books instead of using devices such as tablets or watching TV.

Speaking to OT about the survey results, and the potential applications for optometry in the UK, Dr Millicent Knight, a GMAC board member and senior vice president of the customer development group at Essilor of America, said: “We were very shocked to see that while parents are worried about their children’s eyesight due to habitual lifestyle changes as a result of COVID-19, only 25% of parents made eye exam appointments for their children with an optometrist or ophthalmologist since the beginning of the pandemic.”

“While the pandemic impacted countries differently, it did force families around the world to change their lifestyles to limit time outdoors and rely heavily on screens for entertainment, work and remote learning – factors that combined with near work and genetics can increase myopia,” Knight said. “Even though the survey was conducted in the US, it shows that parents do recognise that this increase in screen time will have an impact on their children’s eyesight.”

Following the survey, the GMAC has launched a new video to raise awareness of the importance of regular sight tests and the issue of myopia, as well as highlighting treatment options for slowing its progression. 

Parents reported an increase in their child’s screen time during the pandemic, with 26% of survey respondents suggesting their child spends four to five hours per day on electronic devices during the pandemic, compared to 11% before the pandemic.

The majority of parents said they were excited for their child to be able to spend more time outside, and to begin in-person schooling to reduce their time on near work through Zoom classes or close reading.

Meanwhile, 46% expressed worry that not having enough playtime outside would have an impact on their children’s eyesight.

During the pandemic, most children of parents surveyed hadn’t reported any eye health issues, but close to two in 10 complained of fatigue and headaches.

Knight noted that keeping up with routine appointments during the pandemic was, and still is, difficult for families: “However, the survey discovered that 72% of parents believe their paediatrician will flag any issues related to their children’s eyesight and almost the same amount (68%) trust that their child would say something if they had vision issues.

“It’s important to bring awareness that comprehensive eye exams performed by an eye care professional is the only way to diagnose myopia and learn about new treatment options—beyond conventional glasses and contacts—that may help slow the progression of myopia and set children up for success,” Knight concluded.

The GMAC comprises ophthalmic companies and eye health associations, working for greater public awareness about childhood myopia. The coalition also serves as an advisory board under the World Council of Optometry.