On August 29, the government of China took the unprecedented step of calling for limits on the sale and use of video games. The decision came from President Xi Jinping himself. The action—almost certainly an overreaction—came in response to the rise in myopia cases in Chinese children. According to a World Health Organization study cited by China Daily, myopia rates among Chinese youth are the highest in the world at 70% for high school and college students and nearly 40% for primary school students.
The goal is to reduce the incidence of myopia at least 0.5% per year. By 2030, the government wants the myopia rate to fall below 3% for six-year-old children, according to the plan. “It also suggests that less than 38% of primary students and no more than 70% of high school students should be wearing glasses by 2030,” states a report from China Global TV Network, a state-run news outlet.
Both educational and recreational activities that entail heavy near vision work have been cited in the literature on myopia pathogenesis. A recent study on participation in ‘cram schooling’ among Taiwanese children found a correlation with higher myopia. But the connection isn’t strong. “We’re not sure if it’s the near work that’s driving” increased myopia rates, pediatric ophthalmologist Aaron Miller, MD, told the Washington Post, “or what’s not happening because those individuals are doing near work.” Namely, time spent outdoors.
The Chinese regulations will be implemented by a number of government agencies, and parents are also encouraged to intervene and change behavioral norms. “All of society should take action to jointly protect the vision of children so that they can all have a brighter future,” Xi Jinping is cited in China Daily as saying. “The use of electronic products for non-learning purposes should not exceed 15 minutes and should not be more than one hour per day,” an official told Bloomberg.
As the parent of a young child, all I can say is: good luck with that.
Making myopia reduction a priority is, of course, an admirable goal. Maybe China’s authoritarian-leaning culture can pull off such an ambitious bit of social engineering. It’ll be fascinating to watch either way.
Western countries, meanwhile, are diving headlong into virtual reality gaming with perhaps too blasé an attitude toward its ill effects. Headsets like the Oculus Rift and Magic Leap are popularizing a radical new use of digital screens—strapping them an inch away from the eyes—that doesn’t get enough attention as a potential hazard.
This month’s cover story delves into that brave new world. Such devices place largely untested vergence demands on the oculomotor system, reduce the blink rates needed to preserve the tear film and bathe the eyes in blue light that could harm the retina. Optometrists would do well to be at the forefront of patient education on responsible use of this new visual experience before usage habits become ingrained.