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How the sun, parents and grandparents can help prevent myopia among children

I have two sons, aged 18 and 12 years old, and both are myopic. My 12-year-old son, whom we used to take pride in for spotting things at a distance with precision, is now myopic. We have opted for myopia control lenses that are said to slow down myopia progression.
<p>A boy undergoing an eye check at the Singapore National Eye Centre’s Myopia Centre at Block 212 along Bedok North Street 1,&nbsp;on Aug 16, 2019.</p>

A boy undergoing an eye check at the Singapore National Eye Centre’s Myopia Centre at Block 212 along Bedok North Street 1, on Aug 16, 2019.

I have two sons, aged 18 and 12 years old, and both are myopic. My 12-year-old son, whom we used to take pride in for spotting things at a distance with precision, is now myopic. We have opted for myopia control lenses that are said to slow down myopia progression.

Like him, more than half of our primary six children are myopic, which is a worrying trend. And, in about 30 years’ time, close to 90 per cent of our adult population above 18 years of age will be myopic, a condition that has no cure. Undoubtedly, myopia is a national healthcare issue, thus needing urgent attention.  

Increased near-distance work is an environmental factor closely associated with the risk of onset of myopia.

However, given the needs of our education system, it is unlikely the hours spent on near-work activities will reduce any time during our children’s primary years of education when myopia is said to progress rapidly.

Studies suggest that outdoor play with natural sunlight can delay the onset of myopia.

That’s undoubtedly a piece of encouraging news for children and families. Natural sunlight is said to trigger the release of dopamine, a protective factor against myopia. 

The World Health Organisation recommends three hours of physical activity per day for young children. Experts from Singapore National Eye Centre recommend at least two hours of outdoor time every day which allows children to relax their eye muscles.

Experts clearly outline the importance of outdoor play and natural light; however, its translation into practice requires getting into the shoes of many working parents who return home after a long day at work when much of the natural light is gone.

We also should factor in children attending full-day child care centres, where they generally spend a large part of the day in closed settings.

INCREASED DURATION OF OUTDOOR PLAY IN EDUCATION SETTINGS

Outdoor play is an integral part of children’s growing up years in Scandinavian countries where children spend a significant part of their day outdoors despite their cold and snowy winters.

The use of outdoors to promote children’s learning is actively encouraged in their national curriculum, which is also a pathway to foster ecological awareness in children.

While outdoor education is emphasised in preschools and mainstream education settings, the duration is not close to what the experts suggest, thus making it important for parents to play an active role in children’s outdoor play experiences.

However, for many parents working long hours, it is practically challenging to schedule outdoor play experiences every day when there is natural light.

It is therefore worthwhile considering the possibility of increasing the duration of outdoor play in both preschools and mainstream education settings.

The increase would mean children have more daylight exposure which can help delay the onset of myopia.

MORE PARENT-ENGAGING PLAY SPACES

Play spaces such as the Jacob Ballas Children’s Garden and Changi beach park playground offer appealing and engaging play experiences in the outdoors.

However, they may not be practical for an everyday play experience for children who live further away from these landscapes.

Child-engaging thematic play spaces are now on the rise in our neighbourhoods and are a welcoming initiative.

As playing outdoors with natural light shows promising evidence in delaying the onset of myopia, creating more open-ended play spaces in neighbourhoods that offer a variety of play experiences can promote children’s active and sustained engagement in the outdoors.

When such spaces are integrated with facilities such as an outdoor gym and a running track, they make it convenient for parents to accompany and supervise their young children, as well as work on their fitness goals that contribute to their overall wellbeing.

Petir Park in Bukit Panjang is an example that I would like to cite of a conveniently located neighbourhood play space that has outdoor exercise stations, a running track, and facilities to play sports.

This park is well utilised by all age groups during different times of the day and is an admirable example of a family-friendly play environment.

We need more such spaces in which both young and adult can find something that will suit their interests and make healthy choices by spending time outdoors.

CAPITALISING ON GRANDPARENTS

Our children are not spending sufficient time outdoors, says data from Growing up in Singapore Towards Heathy Outcomes (GUSTO), a longitudinal birth-cohort study in Singapore that began in 2009.

Findings show that children below the ages three are exposed to more than two hours of screen time on average every day.

The World Health Organisation recommends not more than one hour of sedentary screen time for young children between the ages two and four.

This brings family outdoor play practices to our attention. 

With dual income families on the rise, actively engaging grandparents in outdoor play with their grandchildren is worth the consideration.

Grandparents can be great partners in children’s play experiences, and therefore actively engaging them in this process is beneficial.

Education settings can invite grandparents on a periodic basis to be a part of their grandchildren’s outdoor play experiences.

Sharing practical information about the benefits of outdoor play and how they can play an active role are some ways to educate them on the benefits of outdoor play that can encourage them to actively reinforce outdoor play during out-of-school hours. 

I hope my suggestions are worthwhile considerations for the younger generations to lead a myopia-free life.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Dr G Kaveri is an Early Childhood Education lecturer at the S R Nathan School of Human Development, Singapore University of Social Sciences.

Related topics

myopia parenting WHO early childhood

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