It is already a known fact that children should spend as much time as possible outside. This has a positive impact on their immune system, it helps them stay fit and it gives them the necessary amount of vitamin D.
A new study carried out by a team of Chinese researchers now reveals that children who spend a significant amount of time outdoors face a much lower risk of developing myopia.
The researchers led by Mingguang HE, MD, PhD, who works at the Zhongshan Ophthalmic Center in Guangzhou, China, looked at more than 1,900 children from twelve different schools. All these schools were assigned to either be part of the intervention group or the control group.
Those who were part of the intervention group had their students spend 40 minutes at the end of each school day outside, for three years. Moreover, their parents were encouraged to engage them in outdoor activities as much as possible. The other schools did not have to modify their initial schedule. At the beginning of the experiment, almost 2 percent of the kids in both groups had myopia.
At the end of the study it was noted that 83 percent of the children that were initially involved completed the trial. After three years, about 30 percent of the children enrolled in the intervention group had myopia, compared to almost 40 percent of the ones belonging to the control group. Moreover, some of the healthy children from the latter group had a much higher risk of developing myopia than the others.
“Our study achieved an absolute difference of 9.1% in the incidence rate of myopia, representing a 23% relative reduction in incident myopia after 3 years. Small children who develop myopia early are most likely to progress to high myopia (≤−6 D), which increases the risk of pathological myopia,” said the authors.
However, the program aimed at educating parents to encourage their kids to spend more time outdoors did not have an effect on the results of the study.
Other health experts point to the fact that a longer trial is needed to assess the usefulness of outdoor activities on the lower risk of developing myopia. Further research is also needed to check if the same effects would be noticed with children who are not of Asian ethnicity.
“Future studies should include information about the content of the additional outdoor activity, if the activity could be standardized, and how it differs from other studies. This information could guide further study and implementation of outdoor activities in the school setting,” said Dr. Michael Repka from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, Maryland
The results of the study were published in the journal JAMA, on September 15.
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