Bookworms more likely to end up shortsighted

"This study shows that exposure to more years in education contributes to the rising prevalence of myopia, and highlights a need for further research and discussion about how educational practices might be improved to achieve better outcomes without adversely affecting vision", the researchers concluded.

After taking into account potentially influential factors, the team found that every additional year of education was associated with more myopia, or more specifically, a refractive error of -0.27 diopters a year.

To find out whether more time spent in education is a causal risk factor for myopia, the research team from the Bristol Medical School used Mendelian randomisation (MR) applied to a large, population cohort, known as the UK Biobank.

Edward Mountjoy, Ph.D., from the University of Bristol in the United Kingdom, and colleagues conducted a bidirectional, two sample mendelian randomization study using publicly available genetic data.

Many studies have reported strong links between education and myopia, but it is not clear whether increasing exposure to education causes myopia, myopic children are more studious, or socioeconomic position leads to myopia and higher levels of education. They found that people who went on to study in universities were more likely to develop vision problems than those who left school at the age of 16. The distinction is sufficient to imply needing glasses for driving.

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Exactly how increasing levels of education cause myopia can not be known from MR analyses, although there are possible clues from recognised environmental risk factors. This theory has been one of the main drivers for recent investment in "Bright Light" classrooms to protect against myopia in Southeast Asia. Having said that, the study found that there was not enough evidence to link the prevalence of myopia to people remaining in education or extending their years of study. Evidence has already shown that outdoor light can have a protective effect against the development of the condition.

Consultants pointed to the expertise in East Asia, the place education means early intense instructional pressures and little time for play open air. Children from developed East and Southeast Asian countries regularly say that they spend less time outdoors than children from Australia or the United States and randomised controlled trials have shown that more time spent outdoors during childhood protects against the development of myopia.

The researchers point to some study limitations. However, there was little evidence that this could explain their findings.

Another reason, according to Dr. Denize Atan, the lead author of the study, is that students are less exposed to natural sunlight because they spend most of their time indoors.

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