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Lack of outdoor time may have increased myopia progression

Preliminary data from local ongoing studies show that the COVID-19 pandemic has likely deteriorated the vision of Singapore’s children.


The COVID-19 pandemic restrictions caused a decrease in time spent outdoors and an increase in screen time. Worldwide studies found that these lifestyle changes led to a faster progression of myopia in children during the pandemic than before.

Prof Saw Seang Mei, co-head of the SERI Myopia Research Group, is reviewing seven such worldwide studies from countries like China, Turkey and Hong Kong. Each of these studies evaluated between 200 to 1,800 children aged between six to 17. Prof Saw’s team is currently evaluating the data from Singapore and will contrast the myopia progression levels before and during the pandemic.

The study published in April 2021 on almost 500 nine-year-olds in the Growing Up in Singapore Towards Healthy Outcomes (Gusto) birth cohort study found that sunlight is crucial to trigger the production of dopamine in the retina — a chemical which helps to prevent myopia. However, due to the meagre amount of time which Singaporean children spend playing outdoors, they receive insufficient exposure to natural light. Additionally, Singapore’s cloudy skies mean the island generally receives lesser sunlight than other countries.

Both the factors revealed in the study explain the early onset of myopia in children in Singapore — and Prof Saw said, “I won’t be surprised if the age (of onset falls) because of the pandemic.”

Hence, it is the need of the hour to encourage outdoor playing and learning initiatives.


10 per cent of the 3,000 children between the ages of six months to six years in a recent study were myopic.

According to a 19-year-long study on 2,000 Singaporean children which began in 1999, 28 per cent of the seven-year-olds were myopic. This percentage increased to 50 per cent when they turned 10 years old. By the time they reached age 16, this percentage further propelled to 75 per cent.

Click here to check out other articles in SINGVISION Issue 1/2022.