Outdoors NSW is urging all Australian parents to ensure their kids spend at least 2 hours outside in daylight each day to ward off myopia – a growing health crisis.

Their call comes on the back of Australian scientists uncovering that myopia is being caused by not enough daylight, recently revealed in an ABC Catalyst program and that by 2050, half of the worlds population will suffer from short-sightedness.

The scientists from UTS, ANU and University of Melbourne working with a study of 4000 students in Sydney and reviewing findings from larger global studies have found that as our children spend less time outside, their eyes are growing abnormally into an elongated shape due to a lack of bright light. This change in eye shape causes light rays from the distance to focus in front of the retina rather than on it, resulting in a blurred image. Natural daylight releases a chemical called dopamine in our bodies, which can stop or slow short-sighted-ness.

In the Arctic, the Inuit population lived a life outdoors, hunting and fishing. But in the 1960s, compulsory schooling brought a dramatic change to their lifestyle. In just one generation, the prevalence of myopia jumped from less than 2% to almost 60%.

In China, where the middle class has risen and education competition has intensified 80% of Junior High School graduates have myopia compared with 20% in the mid 1970s.

How bad is it in NSW?

According to the investigation, about 30% of school leavers are myopic. But the rate in selective schools is much higher, at around 50 or 60%, with optometrists noting a 30% rise in early myopia in kids of 7 and 8 years of age. They expect this will only get worse.

A recent Sydney study of 4,000 children across 55 schools from Years 1 to 7 tested many hypothesis supported by laboratory tests and found that if you can spend just a few hours outside every day, then there’s a much lower chance you’ll become short sighted.

“Many teachers and parents lament the lack of time children spend outdoors and the amount of time they spend indoors on homework, in front of computers – studying or playing – or watching TV,” said Liz Horne, Strategic Business Officer for Outdoors NSW. “They have been worried about the impact it might have on their eyes, but they would have guessed the real reason why children are fast developing eye conditions.

This landmark study has come at a crucial time. The risk of half our population developing myopia is a serious problem and something we need all parents to be aware of.

However, it’s wonderful to know that the best prevention is to ensure our children – right up until they are adults – spend a minimum of 2 hours outside each day.

For further information see: http://www.abc.net.au/catalyst/stories/4450296.htm