Grade Level or Genetics?
Myopia, or nearsightedness, may actually have a closer connection to your education level than your genetics. A study conducted by the University Medical Center in Mainz, Germany found that instances and degrees of myopia increased with each year a person spent in school and with the highest level of education they reached. This is the first population-based study which demonstrates that environmental factors were more significant in developing nearsightedness than genetics, which is contrary to previous knowledge.
In the study published in Ophthalmology, a journal from the American Academy of Ophthalmology, the researchers studied the prevalence of nearsightedness in over 4,500 German individuals between the ages of 35 to 74, while excluding those who had corrective vision surgery or cataracts. They gave the participants a comprehensive physical examination accompanied by lab tests and a thorough questionnaire in order to assess the connection between time spent in school, education received, and the presence of nearsightedness.
The results, called the Gutenberg Health Study, showed that 53 percent of university graduates studied were nearsighted. Meanwhile, only 24 percent of those with no high school education or other training and 35 percent of high school and vocational school graduates had myopia. It also revealed the longer one spent in school, the higher chance they were nearsighted. Each additional year of education increased the probability they would have myopia.
Additionally, the researchers examined 45 genetic markers which affect myopia but discovered the individual’s education level was a much higher factor in determining the presence and degree of nearsightedness.
Increased Diagnosis of Nearsightedness
What prompted these studies is the sudden increase in the diagnosis of nearsightedness in recent years, especially in developed countries. Around 30 to 40 percent of people in Europe and the United States are nearsighted. In some developed Asian countries, the diagnosis of myopia is pervasive, with up to 80 percent of people having this eye problem.
Factors other than genetics affecting myopia prevalence and severity are being studied as the sudden increase indicates the cause may be environmental rather than hereditary. Students are likely to frequently perform tasks which require their eyes to focus on an object or subject near to them, such as working on a computer or reading a book, both of which are recognized environmental factors in developing nearsightedness.
A Possible Remedy?
The remedy could be as simple as spending more time outdoors. Other studies, conducted on children in Denmark and Asia, were able to link time spent outside in daylight with decreased cases of myopia. The Danish study was the first to directly correlate seasonal daylight hours with eye growth and development of myopia in children. Another study completed in Taiwan was able to reduce the likelihood of developing nearsightedness in children who were required to spend their recess time outside.
Eye Exams at an Early Age
These studies are significant because early detection of nearsightedness in children is a crucial part in controlling it in adults. Children may not complain of vision problems so it is important to schedule them for routine eye exams. The American Optometric Association suggests a child’s first complete eye exam be done at 6 months of age. They should have another before entering preschool and every one to two years after, depending on if their doctor believes they are at risk for developing eye problems. As with many eye issues, diagnosing the problem as soon as possible is key in keeping your eyes healthy.
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