Children’s Vision and Digital Devices
April 27, 2021
On behalf of the Vision Impact Institute and the Kids See: Success Initiative, we congratulate you on the development of this important guidance document. We would like to provide comments on the potential risks of increased digital screen time and its long term negative impact on a child’s vision and overall development.
The Vision Impact Institute is a global non-profit organization that raises awareness and advocates about the importance of vision correction and protection to make good vision a global priority. In the United States, we advocate for children’s vision, eye health as a public health issue and the requirement of comprehensive eye exams in young children entering school and at key points in children’s development.
Since experts agree that 80% of learning is through our eyes, vision and academic performance are intrinsically linked. While there are numerous benefits to short-term online learning, the long-term risks and negative health effects on vision problems, sleep, attention, and learning are even greater. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, when almost everything has shifted to virtual work, it is more difficult to step away from screen time, and the increase in near work activities has been affecting our children’s vision.
In 2019, the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health conducted a study in children and found that they spent a significant amount of time on their devices in a given day:
- 5 hours on computers, laptops and tablets
- 3 hours on their phones
- 2 hours watching TV
Peer-reviewed research on this topic reveals that more time spent on near work activities was associated with higher risks of myopia or nearsightedness. It also points out the need for appropriately balancing outdoor time activities and considering alternative activities that limit online time to balance and combat the negative effects of time spent on digital devices.
The draft Health & Safety Guidelines for children is an important tool to provide health and safety best practices that could help educate parents and teachers on the important role they play in observing poor vision in and outside the classroom. At the same time, these guidelines provide an opportunity to potentially help reduce the impact of excessive near work on the progression of myopia in children, when including evidence-based resources that ensure parents, children, school staff and government agencies are aware about the imminent risks of a myopia boom.
In Shandong China, there have been efforts to reduce the amount of time students spend on mobile phones and tablets because more than 40 percent of primary and middle school students have myopia. It is known that too much screen time can result in additional health effects, including digital eyestrain, which can include burning, headaches, fatigue, blurred or double vision, loss of focus, and head and neck pain. It is also critical to address the importance of early detection and prevention of vision problems that are not reversible, hence, the importance of eye exams for school, outdoor physical activity and overall whole-child health at all ages of development. As you well addressed in the guidelines, there are many other related effects from the use of digital devices linked to the impact on children’s social mental health; and poor vision is not the exception.
We look forward to collaborating with you on this issue and remain available to provide any further information that would ensure students succeed inside and outside the classroom in order to shape successful futures.
References and links to peer review studies and documents:
- Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health
- Systematic review on near work activities: https://visionimpactinstitute.org/research/the-association-between-near-work-activities-and-myopia-in-children-a-systematic-review-and-meta-analysis/
- Why limited mobile phones and tablets?
Additional information can be found under our research page with more than 600 peer-review studies on the socio-economic impact of poor vision.
Thank you for your consideration.
Program manager – Americas
Vision Impact Institute