baby climbing on pikler triangle in backyard

How Outdoor Play Helps With Eye and Vision Development in Children

Over the past few decades, the prevalence of myopia has surged dramatically. Worryingly, ophthalmologists and optometrists note that many new myopic patients are children. An abstract presented at the 2022 Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology (ARVO) Annual Meeting states that the total number of children with myopia in the US was estimated to be 19,512,708 in 2020, with a nationwide myopia prevalence of 36.1%. This alarming trend poses serious questions about the long-term vision health of future generations and highlights the need for effective preventive measures. 

Understanding childhood myopia

Myopia or nearsightedness typically develops during childhood and adolescence when the eyes are still growing. It occurs when the eyeball stretches and grows too long, causing faraway objects to appear blurry. Several factors contribute to the increasing rates of childhood myopia. Genetics plays a critical role; children with myopic parents are more likely to develop this condition. At the same time, recent studies show that environmental and lifestyle factors are to blame as well.

The modern lifestyle, characterized by prolonged screen time and reduced outdoor activities, is a major contributor. Children today spend an extensive amount of time on digital devices for both educational and recreational purposes. This prolonged near work, combined with insufficient time spent outdoors, has been linked to the development and progression of myopia.

The treatment of childhood myopia

Once myopia is diagnosed, several treatment options are available to manage and correct the condition. The most common solution is the use of prescription glasses. Eyeglasses provide clear vision by compensating for the elongation of the eyeball. They are easy to use, with established retailers offering glasses in various styles and prescriptions to suit individual needs. Soft contact lenses are another option for treating childhood myopia. According to one report, 51% of eye care professionals believe children aged seven to 12 years old can experience safe and healthy contact lens wear as part of treating myopia.

It's important to note that myopia can progress and worsen over time. Some treatments, like prescription atropine eye drops and orthokeratology, can slow down its progression. However, pediatric ophthalmologists say that the best approach is to protect children from developing myopia in the first place. Research has shed light on a simple yet powerful tool in the fight against myopia: outdoor play. 

The role of outdoor play in preventing myopia

A two-year study conducted by myopia researcher Dr. Ian Morgan confirmed that children who reported spending more time outdoors were less likely to be myopic. His study was based on the theory that exposure to natural light stimulates the release of dopamine in the retina. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that inhibits the excessive elongation of the eyeball, thereby reducing the risk of myopia.

Given the benefits of outdoor play in preventing myopia onset, parents play a crucial role in encouraging their children to spend more time outside. Clinical optometrist Dr. Paul Gifford recommends that children spend at least 90 minutes per day outdoors. For this, parents can set up temporary outdoor play areas or simple obstacle courses using our range of play structures. Our Pikler Triangle, for instance, encourages exploration and free-form play. It can be easily set in a small backyard and then stored indoors to ensure longevity.

Parents can also integrate outdoor activities into their family's daily routine. After-school and weekend playtimes can become regular opportunities for children to enjoy the benefits of natural light and outdoor environments. Family walks, bike rides, or visits to local parks can make outdoor time enjoyable for everyone. 

While myopia rates among children are on the rise, integrating outdoor play into routines offers a promising strategy to combat this trend. By understanding the causes of myopia and promoting healthy habits, parents can safeguard their children's vision and overall well-being.


Guest article written by Riley Anne Jamison

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