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Another good reason to free range your kids: it prevents myopia

From Nature:

Based on epidemiological studies, Ian Morgan, a myopia researcher at the Australian National University in Canberra, estimates that children need to spend around three hours per day under light levels of at least 10,000 lux to be protected against myopia. This is about the level experienced by someone under a shady tree, wearing sunglasses, on a bright summer day. (An overcast day can provide less than 10,000 lux and a well-lit office or classroom is usually no more than 500 lux.) Three or more hours of daily outdoor time is already the norm for children in Morgan’s native Australia, where only around 30% of 17-year-olds are myopic. But in many parts of the world — including the United States, Europe and East Asia — children are often outside for only one or two hours.

“Sort of as an afterthought, we asked about sports and outdoorsy stuff.”

In 2009, Morgan set out to test whether boosting outdoor time would help to protect the eyesight of Chinese children. He and a team from the Zhongshan Ophthalmic Center (where Morgan also works) launched a three-year trial in which they added a 40-minute outdoor class to the end of the school day for a group of six- and seven-year-olds at six randomly selected schools in Guangzhou; children at six other schools had no change in schedule and served as controls. Of the 900-plus children who attended the outside class, 30% developed myopia by age nine or ten compared with 40% of those at the control schools. The study is being prepared for publication.

A stronger effect was found at a school in southern Taiwan, where teachers were asked to send children outside for all 80 minutes of their daily break time instead of giving them the choice to stay inside. After one year, doctors had diagnosed myopia in 8% of the children, compared with 18% at a nearby school12.

Morgan is buoyed by the preliminary findings, but thinks that he can do even better. “We’ve got proof of principle that increasing the amount of time children spend outside actually works,” he says. “The question then is how do we make this work in practice at a level that would have a significant impact?” He recognizes that many schools do not have the flexibility to add time outdoors. So last year, in collaboration with Congdon, he began piloting the idea of teaching kids in a classroom made of glass to let in more natural light. “This glass classroom idea is quite applicable for whole swathes of China,” Congdon says.

Rose points out that additional outdoor time “has to be mandated through the schools, because getting parents to voluntarily do this is extremely difficult”. Saw and her colleagues learned this when they trialled a 9-month programme to teach parents in Singapore about the importance of outdoor time in order to prevent myopia. They provided step-counters, organized outdoor weekend activities for families and even offered cash prizes for cooperation. But by the end of the trial, the time spent outdoors was not statistically different from that for a control group with no such campaign13.

Organized sports may not be enough. Kids need to spend time outside playing in the sunshine and learning to judge distances during the years when the eyeball is developing.

Keeping them indoors to keep them away from imaginary predators is ruining their eyes.

20 Responses

  1. This is really interesting! Rick and I walk around the neighborhood everyday and we are always amazed how often we are the only people outside.

    • Maybe it’s a conspiracy and optometrists are the ones behind the stranger danger hysteria.

      • Could be … and maybe allergy doctors too. I mean, if you are never outside and always breath filtered air then maybe you’ll be more sensitive to pollen and other natural airborne stuff when you (by that I mean this mythical person) get older??

      • I suspect this comment is intended as satirically tongue-in-cheek humor. But have you considered the possibility that “stranger-danger” alarmism is indeed part of a broader conspiracy, only not by optometrists?

        Does the Federal Government have a secret corps of social mass-obedience-training experts who design policies to raise generations of hundreds of millions of learnedly-helpless sub-citizen scaredy-consumers? Might the Federal Government’s HIHOPing the 9/11 attacks to prepare the public for rollout of Rule by Fear and Emergency including TSA obedience training at every airport line be a part of this conspiracy? Might mass-disablement of kids’s eyesight to make kids grow up less physically independent and confident in general be part of the conspiracy to raise vast sub-citizen-grade masses of obedience consumers and subservers? Is the question at least worth thinking about?

        Ask yourself, why are the government obedience enforcers going so far to persecute those parents who are protecting their children from government engineered myopia by letting them free-range outdoors after suitable and sufficient parental safe-behavior training?
        Is it to terrorise other parents out of doing the same thing for their children in defiance of The Government’s wishes for quality-prevention of those same children?

  2. We’re turning into mole people.

  3. People become more authoritarian when they’re afraid.

    When people become more authoritarian they’re more likely to go along with Things That Most Definitely Must Be Done.

    Scarring a whole generation is a small price to pay.

    • Bv,

      I have just now read your comment. I think my question up above fits right in with the meaning and prediction of your comment.

  4. fw: interesting links from nakedcapitalism today:

    A Prof editorial debunking the “STEM shortage” BigLie. 25% of those with a STEM BS degree, are working a STEM occupation currently!
    http://www.usnews.com/opinion/articles/2014/09/15/stem-graduates-cant-find-jobs

    Census (Fed Govt) article linked in the editorial
    http://www.census.gov/newsroom/press-releases/2014/cb14-130.html

    • Well, it’s about fucking time someone noticed. Here in pittsburgh, a BS in biophysics starts at $12/hour. Administrative assistants can make around $20/hour with a high school diploma.

      • Of course, this didn’t stop Eric Schmidt (who famously boasted that Google rejects 99.9% of those who apply for technical positions, and who also led the conspiracy to suppress salaries in Silicon Valley) from testifying before Congress last week that there’s a huge tech shortage which absolute requires more H1Bs. Perjury much, Eric?

  5. There’s a field experiment to be done here. The huge sample size can compensate for some of the inevitable fuzziness of observing people “in the wild.” In most of South Asia and the Middle East girls are kept indoors to a much greater extent than boys. So there ought to be a noticeable difference in myopia between the sexes.

    I wonder if there is. I doubt you could find out by looking at optometrists’ records, unfortunately, since girls and women probably get their eyes checked at much lower rates than boys/men.

    Very interesting article.

    • Oooo, great observation. Yes, it would be very interesting to get our hands on that information. But are they kept indoors or in their own cloistered outdoor areas?

      • Good point. The richer and/or more rural women probably have more access to courtyards or outdoor spaces. There’d be many factors to take into account. As usual.

  6. Don’t know if the daughter read this but she is not allowing the grandkid any screen viewing time until the age of two.

  7. The problem, it seems to me, is that the study doesn’t really pin down whether it’s the light exposure, the activity, or the need to accommodate at various distances that’s responsible (or, indeed, something else like different dietary or sleep habits in kids who run around outside vs. those who spend all day indoors). It’s really poorly controlled from an experimental design POV. I can see a big push to put brighter lights in schools while doing nothing to encourage more outdoor activity as a result of this.

  8. I have wondered some about the fear factor in free ranging kids. When I was elementary school age, I free ranged for blocks in the Bronx, NY and nothing bad ever happened (I had 20/20 vision too!), but the thought of free ranging a kid that age today here in suburban NJ frightens the hell out of me. Also, families often kept their apartment doors unlocked and I never heard of anything bad happening, but the thought of doing it now scares me! In addition, in the 1940s, long before I was born, my mother went out after work with her co-workers and then rode back home to the Bronx on the subway alone at 2 AM, then walked through the streets from the subway station back home and never thought a thing about it, but I would be too scared to do that! Are there really that many more predators today than yesterday, and if not, how did I grow from such a fearless little kid into such a scared adult?

    • I am told that Michael Moore very slightly touched on this question in his movie Bowling For Columbine. He made some referrence to the artificially-hyped “Mean World” image shown 24-7 on MediaNews TV of all networks on every channel. It is designed to make people afraid . . . very afraid – of what danger lurks in the world and people all around them. So people in safe suburbs needlessly feel as much fear for their children as people in deadly slum-ghettos rightfully fear for theirs.
      It is raising people in directible exploitable fear. To terrify parents into getting with the program of raising their children, millions of children with hidden sub-clinical PTSD.

    • No, there are not more predators. There is not more crime. For read Lenore Skenazy’s blog freerangekids . Periodically, she recites the statistics from the FBI and other governmental sources. Your chances of having your kid snatched and unspeakable things done to her/him are infinitesimally small. Most molesting/killing is done by people you know, like family and friends, not by strangers. And if that’s the case, keeping them attached to your umbilical cord throughout their childhood doesn’t really keep them safe unless you are actually with them every blessed minute of the day.
      So, why are we being bombarded with the idea that it’s not safe out there? A couple of theories: 1.) the news likes sensational stories. Horror stories make good copy. 2.) Conservatives really, REALLY like the idea of keeping women at home and if they pile on guilt and blame for even the teensiest thing that happens to a child on women, they will absorb that due to their conditioning and become competitive uber stay at home moms. It seems to have worked to a certain extent.

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