Lost to the Distance: Our Nation’s Approaching Myopia Problem

Revised and Updated by Seth Preston on: September 27, 2019

The United States is becoming increasingly myopic- supported by a number of contributing factors. There is also, however, an air of mystery around why this is happening. We are going to explore the proven contributing factors and the uncertainty surrounding the increase in nearsightedness overall.

Myopia image

Nearsightedness is the most common refractive error of the eye. Chances are, somebody currently next to you or somebody you know has this condition. In addition to how already common it is to be near sighted, Myopia is becoming rapidly more apparent in the United States.

The numbers are quite revealing:

“A recent study by the National Eye Institute (NEI) shows the prevalence of myopia grew from 25 percent of the U.S. population (ages 12 to 54) in 1971-1972 to a whopping 41.6 percent in 1999-2004.” (Medical Daily)

This statistic is overwhelmingly difficult to ignore. The approaching odds of 1 in every 2 Americans having Myopia is staggering, opposed to 1 in every 4 in the ’70s. How does this happen?

One theory on the increase of nearsightedness is our societal dependency on tools with screens. From an early age, our children are exposed to more device use than previous generations. Scientists theorize that a touch screen, phone, or even computer monitor can stunt the early growth of the eye in children.

The course of study into the increase of Myopia has proven to be a difficult task. Modern science has hit some hurdles in pursuit of finding out why this is happening. There are a few variables that need to be taken into consideration, as stated below:

“The confusion around myopia is even more complicated because scientists can’t agree on how to study it. You can’t just take healthy children and deliberately make them nearsighted (obviously). So the best you can do is induce myopia in animals—usually chickens, tree shrews, or monkeys.” (Wired)

As you can see, the enrollment pool for testing these theories can be tough. Scientists, according to Wired, can’t agree on “whether it’s focusing on your phone nine inches from your face all the time, how light interacts with our circadian rhythms to influence eye growth, or none of the above.” (Wired)

It’s frustrating to be presented with a problem without a foreseeable solution, but with hard work and collaboration, especially in the realm of clinical research, the answer is near!