The association between digital screen time and myopia: A systematic review

Sabah Bari ‘24

Figure 1. Children using a handheld device with the female child having the device in close proximity to her eyes and the male child has the phone farther from his face. 

With the advancement of technology and the creation of new digital platforms, many individuals have experienced an increase in screen time, which may heighten the risk for many health-related issues, especially in the eyes. Myopia, also known as nearsightedness and shortsightedness, is a condition in which parallel rays are focused in front of the retina. Light rays converge to a focal point before they reach the retina, and then they begin to diverge, therefore light rays from distant objects are more parallel. While objects up close appear clearly, objects far away may appear blurry. The two main focuses of the present study by researchers from the Singapore Eye Research Institute were to determine the correlation between screen time and the risk of developing myopia and whether children have a higher risk of myopia progression. Currently, the association between screen time and myopia has not been consistent. It is also believed that the increase of educational uses of technology has a great influence on screen time as well. The researchers of the study hypothesized that viewing distance has an effect on myopia development, limiting individuals from being able to see beyond the center of their vision, hence becoming nearsighted. 

In recent years, there has been an increase in digital users within the younger age groups who use digital devices everyday. It was reported that 44% of children start using mobile devices before the age of one. This finding has been associated with the increase in handheld devices over the past few years. The World Health Organization developed a guideline stating the screen time for children under the age of 5 should be restricted because it is evident the screen time may increase sedentary behaviour with negative impact on their health. The study with children and young adult participants included various handheld devices that are commonly used with the negligence of devices such as television because it is seen from a distance. The purpose was to examine the effects of devices held close to the eyes, which are usually the handheld devices used everyday. 

The systematic review summarized the evidence for the association between screen time and myopia progression in fifteen main studies, which had mixed results. However, there was a consistent trend of the association between children and progression of myopia in five of the fifteen studies. A positive association between screen time and prevalent myopia was reported in three out of four cross‐sectional studies. Five of the fifteen studies were used in the meta analysis including 20,889 children from Asia, North America and Australia. The WHO guideline showed evidence that screen time may increase sedentary behaviour with negative impact on their health. Although screen time may affect an individual’s health, the results suggest that screen time is not significantly impacting the myopia of children and that the data is not strong enough to associate health deficits of screen time on children. As there has been a substitution effect is happening, where everything, such as educational tools, recreation, writing, reading, etc., is slowly becoming replaced with technology and it’s something to be cautious about with the health risks in mind.

Works cited:

[1] Lanca, Carla, and Seang‐Mei Saw. “The Association between Digital Screen Time and Myopia: A Systematic Review.” Ophthalmic and Physiological Optics 40(2), 216-229 (2020). https://doi:10.1111/opo.12657.

[2] Image retrieved from:  https://unsplash.com/photos/grhjIuEAb_0

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