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The Link Between Schooling and Vision Problems: New Evidence

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Last week, Education Week wrote about the rise of nearsightedness among schoolchildren and the wide disparities among states in how often children are tested for vision problems. Today, an international health journal added to the growing evidence linking myopia to schooling.

In a study released today in the peer-reviewed BMJ (previously the British Journal of Medicine), researchers from the University of Bristol and Cardiff University found that the more years of schooling a child has, the higher his risk of developing nearsightedness—including early-onset myopia, which can lead to blindness.

The researchers analyzed publicly available genetic and background information, including years of education and eyesight, from nearly 68,000 adults who participated in the 23andMe and Social Science Genetic Association Consortium genetic studies. They used known differences in 44 genetic variations previously linked to nearsightedness, as well as 69 genetic variants previously associated with higher years of schooling, to gauge the effect of schooling on the risk of developing nearsightedness.

They found that every year of schooling was associated with a .27-dioptres-greater refractive error in eyesight. That means, for example, that the years of additional schooling between a high school diploma and a master's degree could be on average the difference between needing glasses to drive and not. 

These findings build on evidence of rapidly rising rates of myopia worldwide. The researchers noted from about a third to half of the adults in the United States and Europe have myopia, and 80 to 90 percent of school graduates in China, South Korea, and other industrialized countries in East and South Asia. Researchers estimate at current rates, half of all people in the world will become nearsighted by 2050, and nearly 1 in 10 of those will develop "high myopia," a severe form of the disease which can cause blindness. 

Schools Seek Help for Students 

In an editorial published with the research, Australian vision researchers Ian Morgan, Amanda French, and Kathryn Rose blamed the earlier development of nearsightedness among children on "early intense educational pressures such as homework at preschool level, combined with little time for play outdoors."

U.S. schools have started partnering with community groups to try to identify and correct vision problems more quickly, but wide gaps remain. As the map below shows, about 1 in 3 U.S. children has not had a regular eye exam in the last two years, according to a new Education Week Research Center analysis of federal health data. 

Photo Source: Getty

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