Educating families on healthy behaviors may reduce myopia incidence, study finds. Photo: Getty Images.

Myopia prevalence is on the rise globally, with heightened case rates reported in Asian countries. Looking at ways to curb its spread, a new study based in China found that school-based family health education delivered weekly through social media resulted in a small reduction in childhood myopia rates.

The randomized clinical trial was conducted from 2018 to 2020 among 1,244 first grade students from 12 primary schools in Guangzhou, China. It included weekly health education directed toward parents of children in the intervention group on topics such as increasing outdoor sun exposure activities, correcting eye use behavior and limiting electronic screen time. Children’s eye exams and parent questionnaires were also administered. Myopia was defined as a spherical equivalent refractive error (sphere of +0.5 cylinder) of at least -0.50D.

The two-year incidence myopia rate was lower in the intervention group (106 out of 544 kids, 19%) compared with the control group (171 out of 700 children, 24%). Despite this favorable finding, the mean myopic shift difference was less than 0.25D (intervention group: -0.82D vs. control group: -0.96D) and wasn’t accompanied by any axial length differences.

The findings in the study suggest that parents in the intervention group, on average, made positive improvements in their children’s electronic screen use and the frequency of outdoor activities compared with the control group. In light of this result, enhancing public education and raising parental awareness are key strategies in myopia prevention, the authors said.

WeChat, the electronic education platform used, has also been effective in improving the mental health of patients with HIV as well as helping people lose weight, the investigators noted.

While the use of WeChat for this study “achieved high satisfaction” with its audience, a few parents were dissatisfied, mostly because some intervention messages were too long to read, suggesting that short and clear messages are more conducive, the researchers explained.

Further investigation is warranted on whether the study results would be similar in other parts of the world in the short- or long-term, they added.

Li Q, Guo L, Zhang J, et al. Effect of school-based family health education via social media on children’s myopia and parents’ awareness. JAMA Ophthalmol. September 16, 2021. [Epub ahead of print].