The Department of Health (DOH) has expressed concern over the increasing incidence of myopia or nearsightedness among Filipino children due to the excessive use of smartphones and other electronic devices.
DOH Undersecretary Eric Domingo, a licensed ophthalmologist, said that the prolonged and excessive use of gadgets can hinder the development of a child’s eyesight. He said that electronic gadgets are being used as “babysitters” to keep kids occupied when they’re at home.
Other health experts have also noted that excessive use of gadgets could lead to health problems such as computer vision syndrome and seizures.
Domingo cited a survey by the Philippine Eye Research Institute which stated that 1 out of 10 kindergarten pupils have myopia.
“Hanggang lumaki sila hanggang maging high school at tumataas ‘yong number of children na may myopia. So medyo nakakaalarma din siya kasi nga dadami ang mga bata na mangangaliangan ng salamin, na magiging malabo ang paningin nila (These children will grow until high school and the number of children with myopia will increase. So it’s alarming because the number of children who have poor vision and will need eyeglasses will increase),” Domingo explained.
Senate Bill Filed
Senator Leila De Lima, chairperson of the Senate Social Justice, Welfare and Rural Development Committee, has filed Senate Bill No. 1709 or the National Sight Strategy Plan Act. The bill aims to establish a National Sight Strategy under the auspices of the DOH to organize, collect and publish data and statistics on the prevalence and incidence of vision problems in the country.
Additionally, the DOH shall lead in the formulation and implementation of a comprehensive strategy that will address vision-related health issues and to educate the public about eye and vision health. The bill also mandates the DOH to promote the study and practice of vision-related professions, as well as undertaking studies for the inclusion of vision care services in national health programs.
“I hope that after the DOH raised the alarm on what it described as (an) ‘epidemic’ of nearsightedness among children, my colleagues in the Senate will be compelled to expedite the passage into law of my proposed bill,” De Lima said.
“If we look around, our children spend most of their valuable time on their mobile phones or tablets. Not only does it impair their vision but also it negatively affects their physical and social development,” the senator added.
Tips to Protect Your Child’s Eye Health
The excessive use of electronic devices such as mobile phones and tablets has been linked to several health problems such as myopia, dry eyes, obesity, headaches and insomnia.
Experts recommend these tips to help limit or reduce your child’s screen time:
Encourage 20-second breaks
Eye experts recommend that children and teens take a 20-second break from reading or close-vision activities such as playing games or watching YouTube videos. This can be done every 20 to 30 minutes.
Dr. David Epley, a clinical spokesperson for the American Academy of Ophthalmology, suggested that parents use a kitchen or cellphone timer to remind their kids to take a break by looking outside the window or at a faraway object for 20 seconds.
Allow your kids to spend more time outdoors
Dr. Epley discovered that spending more time outdoors will help slow down the progression of myopia, a finding which is also backed by other experts. A study revealed that children who spend more time outdoors have a smaller chance of becoming nearsighted.
Experts are unsure why time outdoors helps slow down the onset of myopia. Natural sunlight could be one factor, but other researchers claim that normal eye development may require sufficient time looking at distant objects.
Limit the amount of screen time
“We want to reinforce the American Heart Association’s long-standing recommendation for children and teens to get no more than 1-2 hours of recreational screen time daily,” says Dr. Tracie Barnett a researcher at the INRS-Institut Armand Frappier and Sainte-Justine University Hospital Research Center in Montreal, Canada.
It can be difficult to tear your kids away from their favorite smartphones and tablets. One proven technique is to set a schedule when your kids are allowed to use gadgets.
Remove screen-based devices from the bedroom
To reduce screen time, you can ban the use of electronic gadgets in the bedroom, especially before sleeping.
“Ideally, screen-based devices should not be in bedrooms, especially because some studies have found that having screen-based devices in the bedroom can affect sleep. Maximize face-to-face interactions and time outdoors,” says Barnett.
A research by the University of Toledo found that blue light from screens triggers a process in the retina that kills cells, and this could lead to eye disease or even blindness. Using screens in the dark is more damaging due to blue light, according to the research.