Increasing cases of myopia in Taiwanese children are focusing attention on the wide-use of smartphone displays and tablet computers.
Nearly two-thirds of Taiwan’s sixth-graders are myopic, and more than 20 percent of their younger, first-grade counterparts have been diagnosed with the disease, according to a 2010 survey commissioned by the Department of Health’s Bureau of Health Promotion and conducted by National Taiwan University Hospital.
Taiwan ophthalmologist Fu Chou-ching said myopia is caused by prolonged gazing at objects up close, such as smartphone displays and tablet screens that can strain the eyes, a concern especially for growing children.
The news may serve as a cautionary tale as device usage grows with children, both in the home and in school settings.
In the U.S., two out of ten two-to-five-year-olds can play with a smartphone, while only one in ten can tie his or her shoelaces without help, highlighting how children may be losing out on real-life practical skills in favor of a techno-driven skillset.
And educational leaders increasingly integrate mobile devices into the curriculum, like Brainchild’s Kineo, a new education-only device designed for school learning into the classroom. The Kineo, a 7-inch tablet and e-reader with no unauthorized Web browsing, personal email or game apps, was unveiled this past spring when it was shipped to ten states, expanding the tablet’s role in learning.
The Kineo tablet joins a small, but growing, market for educational tablets for young users. Studies like the one in Taiwan may prompt school decision makers to take pause and consider implications beyond learning for some of these newer devices, and may at least prompt caretakers at home to regulate mobile device usage.
Dr. Fu warns the signs may be starting even earlier, even before children enter school.
“I have seen a mother bringing her 3-year-old son to the ophthalmology outpatient department, who came after finding the child has to squint when he watches television,” Fu said, adding the toddler’s myopia was about 100 degrees then.
Early onset of myopia could be followed by a 100-degree increase each year and lead to serious nearsightedness in adolescence, which could result in retinopathy and macular hemorrhage in adulthood, Fu warned.