The number of children around the world affected by myopia is expected to increase from an already worrying 300 million today to 500 million by 2050. The revised figure was presented at Sightgeist, the international conference on eye-care that took place in London on March 28, which gathered many stakeholders and organizations working to address lack of vision care access around the world. The event was organized by Clearly, a global charity tackling the issue of poor vision. The data presented at the conference also revealed the inequality in the delivery of vision correction and eye treatment around the world, with uncorrected vision being the largest unaddressed disability in the world.

According to the Brien Holden Vision Institute, half of the world may be short-sighted by 2050, because large numbers of people have poor access to sight screenings and affordable glasses, among other factors. The most worrying element is the rapid increase of myopia in children of school age. Mexico will see the largest increase in myopia prevalence in school-aged children, with figures expected to rise from 37 percent in 2020 to 59 percent in 2050. In China, the number of school-aged children affected by myopia is expected to rise from 46.9 percent in 2020 to 65.7 by 2050. In Japan, another country with high levels of myopia, 61.7 percent of children are predicted to be myopic by 2050. Furthermore, India, Indonesia, Pakistan and Bangladesh are all predicted to experience double-digit increases by 2050.

The rise of myopia among children has largely been brought about by a lack of time spent outdoors and the excessive amount of time spent on sedentary and mostly indoor activities. The World Health Organization (WHO), which is the United Nations agency focusing on public health issues, has recently released its first guidelines on how much parents should let their children use electronic screens. These include watching TV, using smartphones or tablets, and playing video games. According to the WHO, babies younger than one year should never be exposed to any electronic screens. The answer moves from “never” to “rarely” for children in their second year. Children two to four years of age should spend no more than an hour a day in front of a screen. The new WHO guidelines emphasize that children, instead of being passive viewers, need to be physically active and get enough sleep.