A study on the natural history of myopia conducted in Austria may yield insights that can help doctors advise at-risk patients about how to reduce their lifetime risk. The study included over 30 years of data from 1.5 million participants who provided information on their education, weight and height for body mass index, blood pressure and resting heart rate calculations. A team conducted non-cycloplegic refraction and found the spherical equivalent. Myopic refractive error was defined as less than -0.5D, and hyperopic refractive error was defined as greater than 0.5D.

The researchers discovered that the largest burden of refractive error in Austria is myopia, which rose from 13.8% to 24.4% over 35 years. Less than 5% of the population was found to be hyperopic. They noted that the prevalence of myopia increased more rapidly among those with low education levels (11.4% to 21.7%) than those with higher education levels (24.5% to 29.6%). Participants who were underweight or had a higher resting heart rate were associated with a higher risk for myopia, which points toward lifestyle factors playing an important role in the development of the condition.

“Future research should investigate the impact of modifiable factors on myopia development and progression, particularly lifestyle factors that are dramatically shifting,” the study authors concluded in their paper.

Yang L, Vass C, Smith L, et al. Thirty-five-year trend in the prevalence of refractive error in Austrian conscripts based on 1.5 million participants. Br J Ophthalmol. February 5, 2020. [Epub ahead of print].