THE number of people suffering from short-sightedness is increasing across Europe, with a study finding the problem to be nearly twice as common in those aged between 25 and 29 as from 55 to 59.
Research carried out by King’s College London found the condition, known as myopia, was also found to be twice as prevalent in those achieving a higher education compared with participants who left school before the age of 16.
We do not yet know the impact of the use of computersProf Chris Hammond
Experts said this may reflect a number of factors, such as people who have spent more time studying being in outdoor light less, an increase in the use of computers, a longer educational day with more after-school tuition, and being involved in less outdoor play.
Shared genetic factors underlying myopia and intelligence, or factors related to educational opportunity such as socio- economic status or maternal nutrition, were also offered as potential reasons.
Myopia is already the most common eye condition worldwide but experts said that the prevalence was “significantly increasing”, especially in south-east Asia, although less so in Europe, Australia and the United States.
They analysed data relating to more than 60,000 people from studies carried out between 1990 and 2013, and found that, compared with participants born in the 1920s with only primary education, reaching higher education or being born in the 1960s doubled the chance of myopia.
Individuals born in the 1960s who completed higher education were approximately four times more at risk.
The research found a high prevalence of the condition in those aged 25 to 29, at 47 per cent, compared to just 28 per cent in those aged 55 to 59.
Myopia generally develops during childhood and adolescence, causing blurred vision that has to be corrected by glasses, contact lenses or laser eye surgery.
Severe myopia additionally carries a risk of sight-threatening conditions such as retinal detachment, glaucoma and retinal degeneration.
The study authors suggested the increase could cause a strain on health services, while it also has implications for the economy if more people of working age are becoming visually impaired.
Professor Chris Hammond, of the department of ophthalmology at King’s College London, said: “More research is required to see if changing trends in childhood outdoor exposure, reading and educational practices are affecting myopia development.
“While this study was on adults, we do not yet know the impact of the recent rapid rise in the use of computers, tablets and mobile phones on visual development in children.”
The research is published in the medical journal Ophthalmology.