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Myopia: A Public Health Crisis in the Making

Over the last couple of months, our team has had the chance to attend several conferences where the topic of myopia (nearsightedness) was front and center. In June at the School-Based Health Alliance Conference, I spoke on a panel about how myopia impacts education and learning. Later in July, we attended the Prevent Blindness Focus on Eye Health National Summit where myopia was also on the agenda.

The topic is steadily gaining attention, not just as a vision crisis, but as a public health crisis affecting more significant portions of the world’s population. In 2010, just over 28 percent of the world’s population was affected by myopia. This is predicted to rise to nearly 50 percent by 2050. It’s estimated that by 2050, myopia and high myopia will show a significant increase in prevalence globally affecting five billion people and one billion people respectively.

The good news is that we have solutions to the problem. A pair of eyeglasses can improve the quality of life for someone who has trouble seeing objects in the distance. Increased outdoor time has been shown to prevent the onset and progression of myopia. And a decrease in the amount of time spent on digital devices can also help.

Even better news – the more often we stand united in acknowledging the severity of the problem, the more attention this issue is receiving outside the vision industry. Our challenge is to unite around those who can put solutions into place. Whether it’s working with policy makers to help them advocate for eye exams for their youngest constituents or encouraging school officials to offer their students outdoor time during the school day, it will take a collective rally cry to make a mark.

I was recently struck by an article in The Hill on the topic. The author Ed Towns, Former Democratic Representative from New York, likened the problem of nearsightedness in children to the issue of peanut allergies. He made the point that a problem that hardly existed for many of us as children has received greater awareness because of campaigns to make sure children stay safe and healthy. We must continue to do the same with myopia.

At the School-Based Health Alliance Conference an audience member asked me, “What will happen if we do nothing about the problem?” My response: “I believe that doing nothing is not an option.” I’m certain you agree that posed with the same question, your answer would be similar. Let’s unite to elevate the local dialogue around myopia, and by doing so, let’s make a global difference!

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