We’ve written before about the potential negative impacts on children’s health of both excessive homework and excessive screen time. Now the Chinese government has taken action, to tackle an alarming increase in myopia (near-sightedness) in children.
Over a third of Chinese fourth-graders, and nearly two-thirds of eighth-graders have poor vision, believed to be the highest rates in the world. Among other problems arising from this is the concern that in future China might have labor shortages in jobs requiring 20:20 vision, such as in aerospace and the military. Students in Chinese schools have for decades massaged the area around their eyes on a daily basis, but though this is believed to help with eye strain and headaches, there is no evidence that it prevents myopia.
Instead, recent research suggests that the true cause of nearsightedness, and the reason for the rising global incidence of the problem, is lack of natural sunlight. Scientists at the Australian National University in Canberra suggest that children should spend around three hours per day outdoors to protect their vision, although just 45 minutes a day can reduce progression of myopia by 25 percent. Their findings are supported by a remarkable study at a school in Taiwan, where children were made to go outside during their recess instead of having the choice of staying inside. At the end of the year, the myopia rate was 8 percent, compared to 18 percent at a comparable nearby school.
The Chinese government is in no doubt where the blame lies. Their new measures include a crackdown on online games, including tighter regulation, content ratings and a limit to how long children can play for – although it’s not entirely clear how the latter is to be implemented.
The other enemy is excessive homework. Schools have been ordered not to give written assignments to first- and second-grade children – although, as we’ve seen before, in this area even the otherwise omnipotent Chinese government is struggling to make progress against deeply ingrained ideas about education.
Whether the measures will be successful remains to be seen, but it’s further evidence of the toll being taken on our children by an unhealthy and unnatural lifestyle. We at beijingkids say: let the children play in the sunshine!