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Playing outdoors could save children’s eyesight, says leading eye expert

A top ophthalmologist has urged parents to play outside with their children this summer to avert a poor vision “epidemic”.

Dr Steve Schallhorn, a leading refractive surgeon and Chief Medical Director at Optical Express, is calling on parents to take action amid increasing evidence that growing use of multi-screen technology is placing children’s eye sight under serious strain.

According to a recent study , short-sightedness amongst young people has doubled over the last 50 years. Researchers said the increase was due to teenagers spending more time indoors looking at computer screens.

“I believe that we are creating an epidemic of short sightedness which recent studies show is down to the regular use of hand-held devices such as smartphones and tablets,” said Dr Schallhorn who is Chairman of the Optical Express International Medical Advisory Board (IMAB). 
 
“The growth and development of a child’s eye can be influenced by the type of work it is required to perform. This process is called ‘emmetropization’ and is part of an intricate, active feedback loop between the brain and the eye to provide sharp, in-focus images.  

“On the whole, it is really quite an amazing adaptive process, but the downside is that if the predominant visual tasks are close-up work, such as countless hours on a smart phone, the result can be short sightedness.”

To help reverse the impact of staring at screens, Dr Schallhorn recommends one simple lifestyle change: exercising outdoors. 

Dr Schallhorn said: “Time spent outdoors looking at objects beyond arm’s reach is essential for the development of a child’s eyesight. 

“As a result, outdoor exercise - including running, ball games and even hide-and-seek - is as essential for children’s eye health as it is to other parts of their body.”

Dr Schallhorn’s intervention comes as young people are spending increasing amounts of time on hand held devices.

Research  commissioned by Optical Express has shown that the nation is clocking up many hours a day viewing smart phones and tablets, with 60% of 18-24 year-olds regularly checking their smartphone, often whilst simultaneously watching TV, using a tablet, or working on a laptop.