It's well known that myopia is a widespread vision problem in East Asian countries and has been for some time. Over 80% of teenagers and young adults in Hong Kong, China, Taiwan, Korea and Singapore are near-sighted, with some countries now exceeding 90%.
But there's a dramatic increase in myopia happening around the world. That includes Australia, the United States and Europe. The number of young people with myopia outside of Asia have doubled in just one generation, and increasing.
It's interested to see, as illustrated in the graph below, that myopia in East Asia 60 years ago wasn't the problem that it is today. With rising population density and urbanisation in Australia's capital cities, the rise of myopia in Australia is predicted to follow a similar course. Children and teenagers wearing glasses for near-sightedness in Australia will become the norm, rather than the exception.
The dramatic rise of myopia in East Asia over six decades.
"The prevalence of myopia and high myopia is increasing globally at an alarming rate, with significant increases in the risks for vision impairment from pathological conditions associated with high myopia, including retinal damage, cataract and glaucoma."
THE WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION REPORT ON MYOPIA, 2016.
Why is that?
Genetics plays a big part. A child with one myopic parent has a three times risk of developing myopia, and a child with both parents myopic has a six times risk.
As myopic children become myopic adults, it creates a cascade that increases the prevalence of myopia in the world's population. Scientists have already identified the exact gene involved in myopia that may one day lead to the development of gene therapy to prevent myopia in individuals.
Kids can also develop myopia without having myopic parents, and that is believed to be related to environmental influences. Consider the digital age we live in. Kids are using digital devices - phones, tablets, laptops, computers - far earlier now than even a generation ago.
Digital technology is a huge part of a child's life and in their education, which is also more demanding and competitive in Australia than ever before. More reading, more studying, more tutoring, and from a younger age.
Our society and living conditions are also changing. With our increasing population and higher density housing, our living space is becoming more confined. More children are growing up in smaller houses with smaller backyards, and many in apartments. They are spending less time outdoors in the sun and more time on indoor activities and on their screens interacting with their friends online.
Reduced outdoor activities.
Urban living in smaller spaces.
Excessive close-up work.
Reading too close to the page.
Digital devices and tablet use.
Playing computer games.
School work and homework.
Early education & tutoring.
All these are contributing to the myopia epidemic.
It is estimated that by 2050, 50% of the world's population will be nearsighted.