There is to be a “myopic boom” among Scottish children due to less time spent outside and more spent focusing on phones, tablets and even books, eye experts have warned.
Craig Macdonald, opthalmic lead at the Edinburgh Clinic, said a growing tendency for children to play indoors rather than focus on objects in the far distance was creating an epidemic of shortsightedness.
The problem has been researched heavily in China, where in Shanghai, 86 per cent of high school students suffer from myopia.
It is thought that this is caused by long periods of time spent focusing on close-up objects such as screens or even books.
Scientists have found that more time spent outside, where the eyes are constantly adjusting from objects which are close up and those which are further away, could help reverse the effect.
Macdonald said: “There has been a lot of research on this subject, in China in particular, due to the long periods of time people spend focusing on near objects.
“The problem really is growing amongst children in particular due to the extended use of smart phones and tablet devices,” said Macdonald.
“You’ll rarely find an academic who doesn’t need to wear glasses for myopia and with the upshift in usage amongst children, we’re likely to witness a myopic boom in the younger generation.
He added: “There has been some strong evidence to suggest spending longer periods playing outdoors can prevent myopic onset and development.
“We just need some better weather in Scotland.”
Once damage has been done, there is no cure for short-sightedness – except potentially laser surgery, which can only be carried out when a person’s eye is fully grown.
Marguerite Hunter Blair, chief executive of Play Scotland, said modern children spend less time looking at the horizon than youngsters of previous generations.
“The problem is too much time spent looking at objects which are close.
“It isn’t necessarily just tablets and phones, it can be books as well, or children who spend a lot of time playing indoors with Lego. We are not demonising the digital age.
“Children are just not looking at the horizon enough, especially between the crucial ages of birth and eight.”
She added: “In the past, children were out on bikes a lot or walking to school, which meant they naturally looked at different distances, but now, they get driven everywhere and spend a lot more time inside.”
Dr Andrew Tatham, consultant ophthalmic surgeon for The Edinburgh Clinic, said that a recent UK study which monitored changes in children’s eyes shows that nearly one in five teenagers are myopic.
This is more than double the proportion of similar-aged children affected in the 1960s – an increase from 7 per cent to 16 per cent.
“It’s not clear yet why this has happened, but it’s believed to be the result of an interplay between those who are genetically predisposed to this condition and the changing environment,” he said.”
“Studies have suggested that if children spent more time playing outdoors and less time focusing on objects such as smart devices then myopia could be prevented but it’s not proven yet.”