Childhood Eyesight - Effects of Pandemic and Screen Time

May 9, 2022 | Dr. Linda J. Dobberstein, DC, Board Certified in Clinical Nutrition

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 Childhood Eyesight - Effects of Pandemic and Screen Time
Across the globe, a new trend is dramatically impacting our children’s eyesight. Increased usage of screens and the Covid-19 pandemic has caused a surge of nearsightedness in children. Have you noticed a change in your child’s visual acuity or your own in recent months?

Look back at your old family photo albums or watch movies/TV programs from 40 or more years ago. You will notice that many things have changed beside the fashions, like the number of individuals with glasses. Compare those pictures to present day.

An estimated 2.5 billion people now have nearsightedness reflecting an “epidemic” increase. By 2050, an astonishing estimated 50 percent of the world population will have nearsightedness.

Covid-19's Collateral Damage on Children’s Eyesight

Countries across the globe have noticed yearly increases in the number of young children with nearsightedness. In Spain and China, the numbers of elementary age students with nearsightedness increased each year of the Pandemic. In East and Southeast Asia, an estimated 80-90 percent of senior high school students now have nearsightedness, compared to 3 percent of Sub-Sahara Africa students. Researchers believe that online learning, necessitated by the pandemic, is one of the contributors to this staggering increase. 

Consequences of Nearsightedness

A pair glasses or contacts to correct visual acuity may seem like all that is needed to correct the issue, but there is more to be concerned about with vision changes. Nearsightedness contributes to learning disabilities, difficulty with schoolwork and sports and coordination problems. Headaches, lowered productivity, and even degenerative eye changes can occur.

As nearsightedness increases with greater than -6.00 D, consequences for vision changes like optic neuropathy, macular changes, and retinal detachment may occur as nearsightedness progresses. It is also a major reason for irreversible blindness in adulthood.

Risk Factors

Risk factors for developing significant nearsightedness include near or close work with reading or screen time, higher education levels, lack of time spent outdoors, one or both parents with nearsightedness, and onset of nearsightedness in early childhood with significant progression during the first year in needing glasses.

Other factors include obesity in childhood or teenage years,9 especially in girls, increased insulin levels, living in an urban environment, premature birth, insufficient vitamin D levels, sleeping in and irregular sleep-wake cycles.

Dopamine and Vision Acuity

Dopamine, a neurotransmitter, plays a vital role in vision and the health of the retina, especially in childhood development. It is involved with retina development, visual signals from the eyes to other parts of the brain, and focus. Dopamine is also very important for cognitive function, attention, learning, and much more.

Studies show that outdoor activity directly impacts dopamine release and signaling in the eye. When outdoor activity is limited, dopamine activity in the retina and the visual-oculomotor centers of your brain is also limited. Outdoor light stimulates release of dopamine, which antagonizes the development of nearsightedness.

Your brain and the inner part of your adrenal glands naturally make dopamine. Nutrients required for dopamine synthesis include the amino acids phenylalanine and tyrosine with the cofactors iron, copper, folate, vitamin C, vitamin B3 and B6, and SAMe.

Get Your Child’s Eye Health Off to a Good Start

Eye health begins in pregnancy, followed by dramatic changes and needs during infancy and early childhood. These early years are critical times for eye growth and development, lens maturity, eye muscle training, focus, tracking, vision acuity and retina development. Prenatal care for mothers with omega-3 DHA, vitamin A, carotenes and lutein, B vitamins, and minerals is critical for oxidative stress and the dopamine-eye connection. Adequate vitamin D by sunshine and diet are essential for your healthy baby.

For children born prematurely, studies show those who spent more time outdoor in preschool and elementary age had lower risk and/or progression of nearsightedness. Being outdoors helps dopamine function and provides much needed vitamin D for vision.

Think about the kids in your life who spend most of their day indoors, focusing on things close at hand with substantial amounts of screen time for play, schoolwork, and video games. Picture what their future entails with their visual health, the cumulative wear and tear from close-up work and screen time combined the typical American diet.

Diet and Nutrients for Healthy Vision

Children who are picky eaters, consume the Standard American Diet or have specialized limited diets, have undiagnosed gluten intolerance/Celiac disease, or had inadequate prenatal nutrition, etc. may lack several nutrients necessary for eye health and vision.

Red-orange and blue-green richly colored fruits and vegetables each day provide necessary antioxidants and nutrients for vision. Include whole grains, beans and legumes, seeds, nuts, and animal proteins for a well-balanced diet. Meat, dairy, and eggs provide several nutrients needed for dopamine production and vision.

Add supplemental support to make up for dietary inadequacy. Super Mini Multi, DHA Kids, Astaxanthin, Vitamin D, and Daily Protector offer a great foundation for children and adults who need more extensive support.

Address Weight Concerns

Healthy weight management is also important for eyesight. Obesity and increased insulin levels increase the risk for nearsightedness. Teach your children the Five Rules of The Leptin Diet with breakfast, lunch, and dinner and limit snacking and sugar-rich foods. Older children may use support such as Cinnamon Plus, LeptiSlim, and Daily Protein Plus. Kids of all ages need outdoor exercise and activities, which help offset sedentary lifestyles of studying, TV, and gaming.

Screen Time Tips

Experts give these guidelines for screen time. Reduce computer lux intensity and time especially for preschoolers and elementary age. Make sure they have frequent breaks. For every 30-40 minutes of online learning, take a break and focus on something else for several minutes. Engage in outdoor activities for more than 2 hours per day. Maintain good posture and ergonomics for desk work. Practice good sleep routines to establish circadian rhythm patterns.

Your eye muscles have multidimensional focus abilities. If your child, or you spend substantial amounts of time focused on screens and video games, you are conditioning your eye muscles to stay focused on the short distance. This changes your ability to adapt to seeing far. In children, this adversely impacts coordination, depth perception, reading, and other skills. Screen time must be limited, and outdoor time is mandatory.

Children need to protect against dry eyes and oxidative stress from screen time. They are facing screen exposure for the rest of their lives. Start now to protect their eyes. You can find more information at:

Are Dry Eyes Bugging You?

Protect Your Precious Eyes from Oxidative Stress

Outdoor Time

Getting your kids outside is more than play or work activities or “letting off some steam”. Living in rural or residential areas with “greenness” has been shown to reduce onset of preschool nearsightedness. Play a game of “I/Eye Spy” to identify objects in the distance and check visual acuity. A game of catch, kickball, or soccer helps vision and coordination development and provides a great opportunity for family time.

Nature and sunshine clearly play critical roles in vision and provide significant risk reduction in nearsightedness. Spring is here and summer is rapidly approaching. Encourage your children to go outside and make sure you get some outdoor time too! The great, beautiful outdoors is awaiting you!

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