Is Myopia New?

By now you probably noticed that I use the terms nearsightedness and myopia interchangeably. It is because they mean the same thing. Therefore, for the sake of brevity (and the fact that I am tired of typing out the word nearsightedness), I will be using the shorter term — myopia — from here on. Now, let’s take a trip back into myopia evolution.

History of Neasightedness

In the 1980s, less than 12% of the American population was myopic. Around the same time in China, approximately 40% of the Asian population was myopic.

(Keep in mind, when I say myopic, I am referring to people who need some type of visual aid — contact lenses, glasses, ortho-k — in order to see clearly in the distance.)

Now, let’s fast-forward to 2016. Current studies show myopia has ballooned to epidemic levels.

The latest studies show that myopia prevalence in the U.S. is approximately 43%, while in China, it is approximately 75% (>950 million people).

These trends are occurring worldwide.

Researching Myopia

It is Kim’s senior year in high school, and her research project (The Evolution of Myopia) is due in one week. She does some initial research on myopia and finds this:

  • In the brief time span of 35 years (1980 to 2015), an interesting phenomenon has occurred — myopia has increased to levels never seen before.
  • Within this time period, mankind’s need for corrective lenses (myopia) has increased at an alarming rate, especially among young people.
  • There appears to be a higher prevalence of myopia in certain cultures (Asian).

The question we have to ask ourselves is this: What caused man’s vision to change so much and so quickly?

Do you know the answer? Kim thinks she does.

Her thesis:

  • Since before the creation of glasses, man has been able to survive with imperfect vision.
Back in Time

Luckily for Kim, she stumbles upon a time machine. She steps in and pulls back a lever that reads “The Dawn of Man (B.C.). Next stop, … Neanderthal Land.” Upon her arrival, she notices there are no books, TVs, computers, nail polish or watch makers, and … nobody wearing glasses!

Kim observes people spending most of their day participating in outdoor activities — hunting, gathering food, working, playing, etc. She jumps back into the time machine and selects a lever to take her forward 1,000 years.

Upon her arrival, she is surprised to notice that although the scenery has changed, people are still primarily involved in activities similar to what they were involved in 1,000 years earlier — outdoor activities!

After several thousand-year-leaps into the future, it is not until Kim reaches the year 1990 that she first notices something significantly different: a large number of young people wearing eyeglasses!

No Mystery to Myopia History

Kim now realizes what she missed before when initially developing her thesis.

Because she was taught that evolution went hand in hand with genetics, she approached her project narrow-mindedly, not considering that genetics might not be the only contributor to myopia development. She did not consider the possibility that people during prehistoric times did not wear glasses because they did not need to.

Kim observed that the lowest amounts of myopia in society correlated highly with the time periods when man spent most of his time outdoors. She also noted that modern-day technology (computers, iPhones, mobile readers, etc.) did not exist and that cultures that used these technologies today demonstrated the highest prevalence of myopia.

From these new observations, she discards her original thesis and reaches a fascinating conclusion:

  • The way we indulge in modern technology (along with the lack of outdoor activity) has contributed greatly (and more significantly) to the current epidemic levels of myopia.

I say Kim deserves an “A.”



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