November 12, 2020
The number of Americans who are nearsighted has nearly doubled over the last 50 years to 41.6 percent. This upward trend is evident in nearly every corner of the world, but nowhere near as dramatic as in East and Southeast Asia, where 80 to 90 percent of children and young adults are myopic. If nothing is done to stop this epidemic, it’s estimated that almost half of the world will be myopic by 2050. More people in glasses is not the concern, it’s the number of people with severe or “high” myopia that’s raising the alarm. High myopia raises the risk of vision-threatening eye conditions such as retinal detachment, glaucoma, early cataracts and myopic maculopathy, a leading cause of blindness world-wide. That’s why the American Academy of Ophthalmology has brought together experts in myopia from around the world to develop an action plan to delay the onset of myopia in children and slow it down so the most devastating consequences of high myopia can be avoided.
“Myopia needs our focus now,” said Richard L. Abbott, MD, leader of the Academy’s Myopia Task Force. “Kids who develop myopia early in life and progress to high myopia face an uncertain future. They have a 50 percent greater risk of glaucoma, they are 17 percent more likely to need cataract surgery, and have a 6 times greater risk of retinal detachment and retinal tears.”
The time to intervene is in childhood. A study of a school-based program in Taiwan that encouraged kids to spend 11 hours a week outdoors showed that sunlight can decrease myopia progression. Prescribing children low-dose atropine eyedrops or special contact lenses is also effective in slowing disease progression.
“Right now, the world’s myopia rates are expected to be closer to Asia’s by 2050. It’s possible, but it’s not inevitable,” said Donald Tan, MD, leader of the Academy’s Myopia Task Force. “Public health officials need to recognize that high myopia is a disease and promote interventions to reduce its overall incidence and slow progression. Action now can change the future.”
Both genetics and environmental factors play key roles in myopia. But the recent, dramatic upswing in cases appears to be driven by environmental factors. People are spending less time outdoors and more time on near-work activities such as screen time and reading. And as the coronavirus sends kids indoors to spend even more time online to attend virtual school, there is growing concern among the eye health community that the pandemic will hasten the myopia epidemic.
While this isn’t the first myopia awareness campaign, it is the first effort to coordinate a global health initiative to spread education and foster collaboration to improve treatments.
Led by Drs. Abbott and Tan, the Myopia Task Force includes recognized experts in myopia prevention and treatment, public health experts from around the world, and organization representatives from the American Academy of Family Physicians, the American Academy of Optometry, and the American Academy of Pediatrics. The Task Force has formulated an action plan to address the issue from different perspectives. This includes:
- Educating the health care community, public policy makers, and the public about the public health burden imposed by myopia
- Promote myopia as an important public health concern both nationally and internationally
- Work with the pediatric and family physician organizations to encourage the value of outdoor time for children and to encourage the early diagnosis of children
The Academy is pleased to announce that Nevakar Inc., a biopharmaceutical company committed to preserving the vision of children worldwide, is the first company to support this important initiative and has committed $125,000 over the next 5 years to support our educational efforts. “We applaud the Academy’s myopia efforts and with this grant want to demonstrate our commitment to this important cause,” stated Navneet Puri, PhD, Founder, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Nevakar.
To learn more, listen to this podcast – Myopia Management Close-Up: Richard L. Abbott, MD, on the AAO’s Myopia Task Force.