Study: Outdoor Playtime May Help Kids' Vision

The words, "Go outside and play" have long been known to encourage healthy behaviors in kids.  But a new study suggests that outdoor play may have another benefit--it may reduce the likelihood of children being nearsighted ("nearsighted" means kids have trouble seeing objects at a distance).

The Boston Globe reports that the study, presented at the American Academy of Ophthalmology's annual meeting in Orlando, found that every hour a child spent playing outdoors reduced his or her chances of nearsightedness by 18 percent.  Further, nearsighted kids were found to spend an average of 4 fewer hours outdoors than kids with normal vision.

Does this prove that playing outside leads to better vision? Not by a long shot.

After all, it could be that kids who have trouble seeing faraway objects prefer to be in smaller confines indoors. Or perhaps kids spend more time staring at computer screens and reading books when they're not playing outside, which means they're not using eye muscles required to focus on distance. Two of the studies reviewed found that wasn't the case, but others didn't examine the correlation.

One Chinese study -- published after the analysis was conducted -- found that boosting outdoor time in 40 nearsighted elementary-school-age children from a few hours per week to 14 hours per week resulted in a greater decline in those needing glasses at the end of two years compared with 40 of their counterparts who didn't increase their outdoor time.

"Increasing children's outdoor time could be a simple and cost-effective measure with important benefits for their vision and general health" said review stud co-author Anthony Khawaja in a statement. "If we want to make clear recommendations, however, we'll need more precise data."


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