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Study: By 2050, Half of World Population Won't See the Forest or the Trees

Nearsightedness increased by 66 percent in the U.S. between the 1970s and 2000s, according to a JAMA Ophthalmology study.(Jessica McCahan/U.S. Navy)
Nearsightedness increased by 66 percent in the U.S. between the 1970s and 2000s, according to a JAMA Ophthalmology study.(Jessica McCahan/U.S. Navy)
February 29, 2016

SEATTLE – Mom might have been right when she told you sitting too close to the TV screen would hurt your eyes.

A new study in the Journal of the American Academy of Ophthalmology says half the world's population could be nearsighted by 2050 – up from a quarter of the population in 2000.

Jay Neitz, a researcher in the Ophthalmology Department at the University of Washington, says while genetics play the biggest part in determining a person's vision that alone doesn't explain such a large shift.

"The amount of televisions, computers, tablets, smartphones, all those kinds of things have increased dramatically,” he points out. “And, you know, if you're inside studying all the time and playing computer games, that is the largest correlate."

Neitz adds researchers still aren't sure why screens affect eyesight, only that modernized countries have seen both a shift to screens and an increase in nearsightedness.

A National Institutes of Health study found nearsightedness increased by 66 percent between the 1970s and 2000s in he U.S. East Asian countries have seen similar trends, where researchers say as many as 90 percent of schoolchildren are nearsighted.

However, Neitz says that wasn't the case for an indigenous people he visited in Argentina who live outdoors nearly their entire lives.

"I measured the frequency of nearsightedness in those people, and it's virtually zero," he points out.

Researchers suggest children spend more time outside to help prevent developing nearsightedness.

The cure for some could be found in Washington's state and national parks.

Virginia Painter, communications director for the Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission, says people in every region of the state are within an hour's drive of a park.

"We've got all these amazing places where you can go and enjoy a distant view, and you can exercise your eyes, stretching out and taking in views – like all down the Columbia from Beacon Rock. Or you can go to Fields Spring State Park down in the Blue Mountains, in the southeast part of the state,” she points out. “You can see three states from there, if you're not nearsighted."

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - WA