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Researchers find increase in myopia progression post-pandemic

Scientists from Hong Kong and Singapore have investigated trends in short-sightedness following the onset of COVID-19 restrictions

young child using a tablet
Pixabay/ Nadine Doerlé
Researchers have highlighted a potential increase in myopia incidence among school children in Hong Kong following social restrictions aimed at curbing the spread of COVID-19.

Scientists from Hong Kong and Singapore described their findings in the British Journal of Ophthalmology.

The study involved a cohort of 709 children between the ages of six and eight, recruited at the beginning of the pandemic, and another group of 1084 children within the same age group recruited before COVID-19.

Researchers found a potential increase in myopia incidence among the study group during the pandemic, while they also observed a significant increase in outdoor time and an increase in near work.

“Our results serve to warn eye care professionals, and also policy makers, educators and parents, that collective efforts are needed to prevent childhood myopia, a potential public health crisis as a result of COVID-19,” they emphasised.

The researchers found an annual myopia incidence of 30% among the COVID-19 cohort, compared to an annual incidence of 12% among participants recruited before the pandemic, “suggesting a 2.5-fold increase in myopia incidence”.

Following the pandemic, 68% of study participants decreased the time they spent outdoors, while time spent using screens increased 2.8-fold.

The authors highlighted that in Hong Kong, baseline outdoor time was low compared to Western communities before the pandemic and this decreased further following COVID-19.

“In Hong Kong, not only have schools closed, but most recreation facilities such as sports grounds, swimming pools, country parks, campsites and even indoor recreation areas such as gyms and gaming arcades were also shut down during the pandemic, which further confined school children indoors,” they shared.

Many schools employed digital teaching methods, which increased the near work time of children, the authors added.