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Waterloo study finds kids’ eyesight worsening earlier and largely uncorrected

Nearsightedness in children increases nearly fivefold from Grade 1 to Grade 8, with almost a third of the cases going undiagnosed and uncorrected, according to new research.

The team from the University of Waterloo’s Faculty of Science and the CNIB found that near-sightedness, or myopia, increases from 6 per cent to 28.9 per cent over the age range studied. Children from the Waterloo Region and Waterloo Catholic District School Boards participated in the landmark study and overall, 17.5 per cent of them are near-sighted.

Historically, myopia started at age 12 or 13, but now it is showing up more often in kids six or seven years old,” said Dr. Mike Yang, lead investigator and clinical scientist with the Centre for Contact Lens Research (CCLR) at Waterloo. “Our eyesight as a population is deteriorating and at a much younger age.

What surprised researchers the most was the number of cases of myopia going undetected and uncorrected. Left untreated, the condition worsens until the age of 21. Since it starts earlier in children today, it is possible that they may experience a much greater decline in their eyesight over a lifetime compared with previous generations.

Kids don’t know they can’t see the blackboard,” said Deborah Jones, co-lead investigator on the study and a clinical professor at the School of Optometry and Vision Science at Waterloo. “This kind of gradual loss in eyesight easily goes unnoticed without regular eye exams.

According to the report, a child has more than double the risk of developing myopia if a parent has it. However, the study found that spending one additional hour per week outdoors significantly lowers the odds of children becoming near-sighted.

The researchers plan to extend the pilot study to populations nationwide, looking at eye health within different ethnicities and environmental settings.

“We expect to find the same results in children across the country,” said Keith Gordon, Vice-President Research, CNIB. “It’s important for children between the ages of six and 19 to get an eye exam every year, as recommended by the Canadian Association of Optometrists. However even with annual check-ups, parents need to ensure that their children spend less time in front of screens and more time outside, even if it’s just one extra hour a week.”

Lyndon Jones, professor in Waterloo’s School of Optometry and Vision Science and director of the Centre for Contact Lens Research, was the principal investigator on the project. The project development team included Keith Gordon, PhD, vice-president research at the CNIB, as well as Desmond Fonn, professor emeritus at Waterloo, Jill Woods, clinical research manager, and Doerte Luensmann, PhD, clinical scientist at CCLR.

CNIB is a registered charity, passionately providing community-based support, knowledge and a national voice to ensure Canadians who are blind or partially sighted have the confidence, skills and opportunities to fully participate in life. For more information, visit www.cnib.ca.