Myopia is a leading cause of visual impairment worldwide.
Dr Denize Atan, Consultant Senior Lecturer in Ophthalmology at the Bristol Medical School: Translational Health Sciences and Honorary Consultant in Neuro-ophthalmology at the Bristol Eye Hospital, who co-led the research with Professor Jez Guggenheim from Cardiff University School of Optometry & Vision Sciences, said: "Our study provides strong evidence that length of time spent in education is a causal risk factor for myopia". As a result, it remained unclear whether myopic children are more studious, or if increased exposure to education caused myopia, or if socioeconomic position led to both myopia and higher levels of education. "Policymakers should be aware that the educational practices used to teach children and to promote personal and economic health may have the unintended effect of causing increasing levels of myopia and later visual disability as a result".
The team gathered data from 67,798 men and women aged 40 to 69 years who were taking part in UK Biobank, a large, long-term study which looks at conditions such cardiovascular disease (CVD) and cancer incidence in thousands of UK residents.
For the new study, researchers used a method called Mendelian randomization which can measure causal effect with the help of genes. This theory has been one of the main drivers for recent investment in "Bright Light" classrooms to protect against myopia in Southeast Asia. The difference is enough to mean needing glasses for driving.
Spending more years in full time education is associated with a greater risk of developing short-sightedness (myopia), finds a study published by The BMJ today.
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Exactly how increasing levels of education cause myopia can not be known from MR analyses, although there are possible clues from recognised environmental risk factors.
The authors of the research urged faculties ought to attempt to make sure kids spent extra time open air.
A linked editorial also added that in East Asia nearly 50% of children are myopic by the end of primary school compared with less than 10% in a study of British children, possibly due to a combination of intense educational pressure early in childhood and little time for outdoor play.
While previous studies only showed the existence of a link between education and nearsightedness, researchers say the current study provides a strong evidence for a causal relationship between the two.
The researchers point to some study limitations. For example, UK Biobank participants have been shown to be more highly educated, have healthier lifestyles, and report fewer health issues compared with the general UK population, which may have affected the results. However, there was little evidence that this could explain their findings.
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