Eye experts advice to PH kids: Less time on gadgets, more outdoors
MANILA, Philippines — Parents need to expose their children more often to outdoor activities and reduce the time they spend on gadgets as a study has found that around 10 percent of kids of kindergarten age in the country already have eye problems.
“Lifestyle and behavioral choices are definitely related to vision loss and to some eye diseases that can cause blindness,” said Dr. Andreas Mueller, regional adviser to the World Health Organization (WHO) at the Manila launch of the agency’s World Health Report on Vision on Tuesday.
These choices, Mueller said, included not going outside and studying very hard without being exposed to sunlight. “These are the main contributors to the increased myopia (nearsightedness) rates.”
Children may suffer from such eye problems as nearsightedness or farsightedness and lazy eye, the WHO and the Philippine Eye Research Institute (Peri) said.
Refractive error, according to the WHO, is a common disorder in which the eye cannot clearly focus the images from the outside world, resulting in blurred vision and in severe cases, visual impairment.
Four refractive errors
The four most common refractive errors are myopia, or difficulty in seeing distant objects clearly; hyperopia (farsightedness), or difficulty in seeing close objects clearly; astigmatism; and presbyopia, or difficulty in reading or seeing at arm’s length.
The WHO estimates that at least 2.2 billion people globally suffer from impaired vision or blindness. Of this number, 1 billion have eye issues that “could have been prevented or have still to be addressed.”
Some 10 percent of Filipino children of kindergarten age (below 6 years old) already need eyeglasses, according to the 2018 Philippine National Blindness Survey and Eye Disease Study conducted by the University of the Philippines’ National Institutes of Health.
Natural light exposure
“In a class of 40, four have vision problems like error of refraction. As they grow older, around 14 percent would require eyeglasses,” said Dr. Leo Cubillan, Peri director.
These eye problems must be checked immediately as it could affect children’s learning outcomes, he pointed out.
The problems can be “controlled or prevented” if children are exposed to natural light early on.
“Our initial recommendation is that children aged 2 to 12 should have more outdoor exposure,” Cubillan said. “We are talking about 15 hours per week, so that is two to three hours of daily outdoor exposure.”
An earlier study by the American Academy of Ophthalmology showed that for every hour a child spent outdoors per week, his risk of suffering from nearsightedness dropped by around 2 percent.
This is why the Department of Education (DepEd) is appealing to teachers to use “alternative, creative teaching methods” so that pupils can spend more time outside classrooms.
“The target is one hour of outdoor activities every day and additional one hour for moderate physical activity,” said Ella Naliponguit of the DepEd’s Bureau of Learner Support Services.
She acknowledged, though, that interventions from local officials were also needed, especially in schools located in highly urbanized areas, as limited space may hinder the conduct of outdoor activities.