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RESEARCH STUDY

RESEARCH

Myopia Incidence and Lifestyle Changes Among School Children During the COVID-19 Pandemic: A Population-Based Prospective Study

AUTHOR:

Zhang X, Cheung SSL, Chan H, et al

SPONSOR/INSTITUTION:

This study was supported in part by CUHK Jockey Club Children Eye Care Programme, the General Research Fund (GRF), Research Grants Council; the Collaborative Research Fund (CRF), Research Grants Council; Innovation and Technology Fund (ITF), Innovation and Technology Commission; Health and Medical Research Fund (HMRF), and the direct grants of the Chinese University of Hong Kong; the UBS Optimus Foundation Grant 8984 (JCSY); and the Centaline Myopia Fund (JCSY).

YEAR PUBLISHED:

2021

PUBLICATION:

British Journal of Ophthalmology

KEY HIGHLIGHTS:

  • The impacts of social restrictions for COVID-19 on children’s vision and lifestyle remain unknown. 

  • The study aims to investigate myopia incidence, spherical equivalent refraction (SER) and lifestyle changes among schoolchildren during the COVID-19 pandemic.

  • Two separate longitudinal cohorts of children aged 6–8 years in Hong Kong were included. The COVID-19 cohort was recruited at the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak, whereas the pre-COVID-19 cohort was recruited before the COVID-19 pandemic. 

  • All children received ocular examinations, and answered a standardised questionnaire relating to their lifestyle, including time spent on outdoor activities and near work, both at baseline and at follow-up visits.

  • A total of 1793 subjects were recruited, of whom 709 children comprised the COVID-19 cohort with 7.89±2.30 months of follow-up, and 1084 children comprised the pre-COVID-19 cohort with 37.54±3.12 months of follow-up. The overall incidence was 19.44% in the COVID-19 cohort, and 36.57% in pre-COVID-19 cohort. 

  • During the COVID-19 pandemic, the change in SER and axial length was –0.50±0.51 D and 0.29±0.35mm, respectively; the time spent on outdoor activities decreased from 1.27±1.12 to 0.41±0.90 hours/ day (p<0.001), while screen time increased from 2.45±2.32 to 6.89±4.42 hours/day (p<0.001).

  • We showed a potential increase in myopia incidence, significant decrease in outdoor time and increase in screen time among schoolchildren in Hong Kong during the COVID-19 pandemic.

  • Our results serve to warn eye care professionals, and also policy makers, educators and parents, that collective efforts are needed to prevent childhood myopia—a potential public health crisis as a result of COVID-19.